The Strange & Maddening Tale of Warner Bros. & HBO Max
My daughter called me last week with what should have been a simple question: “Hey, do we have HBO?”
Insert a deep sigh here.
I explained to her that, yes, we do indeed have access to HBO Max, and that she would need to sign in with her login for our AT&T Mobile account. But before I could start to dig into all of the problems she might potentially have logging into the app,
she thanked me, told me she loved me, and hung up. I knew she would be calling back.
Five minutes later, the phone rang again. “I can’t get it to work!” she said, obviously exasperated.
“Try using your email login rather than your mobile number,” I said. She quickly thanked me, told me she loved me, and hung up. But, again, I knew she would be calling back.
Two minutes later, the phone rang once more. “That doesn’t work, either!” So I asked her if she was trying to log into the
app directly or if she was using the “Sign In with TV or Mobile Provider” button. She confirmed that she was using the latter.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Punkin. HBO Max has just been a straight-up disaster since the day it launched. Maybe try again later?” And I could hear the frustration building in her voice.
“Why do you keep saying HBO Max? What is HBO Max? I just want to watch HBO!”
Mind you, my daughter is a tech-savvy Millennial currently attending graduate school. But when I explained to her that there were currently two HBO streaming apps—HBO and HBO Max—and that with the launch of the latter, the company discontinued HBO Go and rebranded HBO Now as simply HBO, but that we only had access to HBO Max and not HBO (at least I think that’s how it works), I may as well have been explaining integral calculus to our American Staffordshire Terrier.
And then I remembered something I probably should have thought to ask her from the giddy-up. “Baby, what device are you trying to log into this app on?”
“My Roku TV.”
“Ah, yeah, HBO Max isn’t on Roku. You’ll have to use your Xbox.”
I’ll elide the profanity that followed. I probably don’t need to, though. I can only imagine that if simply accessing this stupid app is so frustrating for a technology writer and his very tech-savvy daughter, it must be an outright nightmare for the casual consumer.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Any number of studio-centric streaming services are straightforward and easy to understand—easy enough that my 78-year-old father (a recent cord-cutter) has no trouble signing into Disney+ or CBS All Access or even Peacock, for goodness’ sake, much less other rivals like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
But given how horribly Warner Bros. (a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, which also owns HBO) has bungled pretty much every decision it has made this year, is it really any surprise that HBO Max sucks so spectacularly?
Just look at the way Warner has handled its theatrical releases in the midst of our current pandemic, constantly shuffling release dates incrementally while other studios have made bold moves, and how it insisted on releasing Tenet to theaters at a time when cinemas in New York and California weren’t even open, much to the detriment of those cinemas that were open and ended up operating at a loss just to exhibit that box-office flop.
It gets worse. In the chaotic shuffling that accompanied the launch of HBO Max, there has also been a lot of uncertainty about what would happen to the content streamed on DC Universe, a Warner-owned superhero-centric streaming service that was home to such popular shows as Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn. At first, it seemed that only Doom Patrol would be moving over to HBO Max. Now it seems that Warner is transitioning DC Universe into a digital-comic-book-only platform and folding all of DC Universe’s animated and live-action content into HBO Max. But sadly, DC Universe was the only Warner streaming platform with 4K HDR support. So fans who’ve become accustomed to watching their favorite shows in high quality will now have to suffer an HD downgrade (not to mention pay a heftier monthly subscription, unless they get HBO Max for free as part of their mobile subscriptions, and ugh! I’m getting a headache just typing all of this).
I don’t want to gloss over one of the main points of that last paragraph. Here in late 2020, verging on 2021, HBO Max—the premier streaming home for most WarnerMedia movies and TV shows—doesn’t offer any of its content in 4K HDR, and there’s no clear timeline for when it will.
Which means all of the big exclusives coming next year—including the long-awaited director’s cut of the butchered Justice League theatrical film—will probably stream in HD quality at best, without the benefit of Dolby Atmos audio. It also means that if you want to watch Game of Thrones in 4K, the only way to do so for now is via a chunky 33-disc boxed set.
So, just to summarize for those of you who haven’t been taking notes: Not only has Warner Bros. responded to a global pandemic with stubborn devotion to a dying distribution model, its parent company also seems incapable of putting together a streaming platform that makes a lick of sense, nor one that competes with other similar services in terms of AV quality. If WarnerMedia or AT&T or whoever is making these seemingly never-ending disastrous decisions doesn’t shape up and start cheating off of Disney’s paper, I have a sneaking suspicion one of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic may well be Warner.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.