By Joe Flint 

WarnerMedia's new streaming service HBO Max will be launched after Memorial Day weekend, joining an already crowded market of streaming services as traditional media giants try to compete with Netflix Inc. and establish their own direct-to-consumer businesses

The new platform is scheduled to make its debut on Wednesday, May 27, WarnerMedia, a unit of AT&T Inc., said Tuesday.

At a cost of $14.99 a month, HBO Max is the priciest of the entries in the so-called streaming wars. The service, which includes all content from HBO as well as original content and popular reruns such as "Friends" and "South Park," is free to current HBO subscribers.

"Consumers will quickly see that HBO Max is set apart by a foundation of loved brands built over decades but stitched together with a distinctive voice and product experience," said HBO Max Chief Content Officer Kevin Reilly.

Because the coronavirus has forced the shutdown of the majority of television and movie production, HBO Max isn't launching with the slate of new content it was planning. A much-anticipated reunion of the cast of "Friends" has been delayed, as have several new comedies and dramas in development at the service. The cast reunion special won't be released until the summer or fall, the company said.

Among the new shows and original movies that will be available at launch are "Love Life," a romantic comedy starring Anna Kendrick, and new "Looney Tunes" cartoons and the documentary "On the Record" about the accusations of sexual harassment against music producer Russell Simmons.

With cord-cutting on the rise, companies such as WarnerMedia see a growing need to be able to bypass traditional cable and satellite distributors to reach customers.

Earlier this month, Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal began a slow rollout of its streaming service Peacock, which is being offered free of charge to its customers and some other distributors. Peacock is also offering a $4.99-a-month version with ads and a $9.99 commercial-free version to all consumers, which is set to launch in mid-July.

Last November, Walt Disney Co. rolled out its Disney+ streaming service at a monthly fee of $6.99. Earlier this month, Disney said the platform had passed the 50 million paid-subscriber mark world-wide.

Disney's new service benefited from a Verizon Communications Inc. promotion that offered cellphone customers free access to Disney+ for a year.

AT&T will lean on its own base of cellphone, broadband and pay-TV customers to boost the reach of HBO Max. Customers with the most expensive wireless and home internet plans will get the service automatically, while other subscribers will be encouraged to sign up whenever they visit the company's website or call in for customer support.

The Dallas-based company will also nudge HBO's current subscribers to start watching the new, expanded library of HBO Max. That process will be the simplest for people who already use HBO Now or use AT&T's newest set-top TV boxes. DirecTV's HBO customers might have their log-in credentials pre-populated to make using the new service seamless.

"We spent probably a good 12 months working through the protocols" to move HBO's existing viewers to the new app, said Jeff McElfresh, chief executive of AT&T's telecom business.

Roughly 20 million HBO subscribers watch the premium service through a cable distributor. AT&T recently struck a deal with cable giant Charter Communications Inc. to shift its HBO subscribers onto the new service.

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 21, 2020 16:21 ET (20:21 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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