HBO Max vs Amazon & Roku: A New Blackout Era Comes to Streaming

A Cord Cutter’s Perspective: Amazon’s “IQ test” for would-be HBO Max subscribers

HBO Max might not be coming to Amazon Prime or Fire TV devices anytime soon.

Roku might be closer to a deal. 

At least, that’s the word from an article in Protocol, which dives into contractual disputes surrounding the launch of HBO’s new streaming incarnation.

HBO Max launched on May 27 with audacity. It blasted off into the streaming era without any support from Roku, or Amazon. There is no turning back to HBO’s cable or satellite TV heydays.

About 5 million Amazon Prime subscribers get HBO by paying for it through Amazon Channels. Roku has about 40 million active accounts, a share of which get HBO through Roku billing

Welcome to the new blackout era of streaming.

Now, and forevermore, we the customers are stuck, and will get less for our dollar while two massive companies fight over our money. 

Are Amazon and Roku the new cable companies? Is AT&T, the parent company of HBO Max, molting by way of HBO Max into one of many new streaming-only networks? 

Shouldn’t customers left out in the cold during this fight get some kind of refund? (Full disclosure: I am an HBO subscriber through Amazon Prime Video Channels and use Roku as my primary streaming device. But I’m more interested in the principle being discussed here than the money.) 

You would think the solution would be simple enough for most Prime customers. Cancel your HBO subscription through Amazon Prime Video Channels. Then go to HBOMax.com, and sign up for a free week-long trial.

Maybe I can just watch on my phone for a while… Twice as many movies and shows, and seven days for free! Geez, those guys at HBO were right. Upgrading to HBO Max really is a bit of an IQ test.’

The value proposition is pretty easy until…

My new HBO discount (sans Max)

Not so fast, AT&T. You should know better when you’re in Bezos Land. 

You see, it’s all about the customer over here. That’s the Bezos/Amazon credo. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I went to cancel my HBO subscription and suddenly got stuck with my own HBO Max impasse. 

The photo explains it pretty well. 

If I keep my HBO subscription with Amazon Prime, my monthly subscription would cost only $9.99 for the next two months. 

Amazon wants to give me a $10 discount for watching HBO shows and movies the way I prefer to watch them. I really don’t know if this is a standard move for Amazon, or one that began after the company’s dispute over HBO Max. 

Either way, my conundrum is the same. 

Does Max want me to wait it out and keep paying the full $15 for less content than the majority of its customers?

Do they quietly wish that I cut Amazon out of the equation? 

What should I do? 

You won’t get any clarity from Amazon or AT&T. They are both busy fighting over our money. 

When will HBO Max work out a deal?

If I stick with Amazon, a deal will likely be worked out with Max well before the two month discount ends. 

If not, customers who balk at upgrading to HBO Max in exchange for a brief discount will probably stay with Amazon — either out of complacency or a lack of reason to migrate to Max.

No matter which way a customer turns, Amazon wins. Just like with the old cable company, the distributor owns the plumbing.  

And we hate ripping our house up to change the plumbing.

Sure, there are other options in the era of cord cutting and streaming. But do you really need to buy a new streaming device to get what’s already supposed to be there? Didn’t you buy a streaming device to get rid of the pains associated with your cable box — like higher fees and blackouts? 

If HBO customers stick with Amazon, then Amazon gets to keep more of its cut of revenue from hosting and promoting HBO subscriptions through Amazon Prime Video Channels. 

The profit for Amazon comes from playing the long game, even if it takes a loss up front by offering a discount to a portion of its 5 million HBO subscribers.

It’s Bezos Land. So it’s always about playing the long game. It’s all about the customer over here — until it isn’t. 

I could have gotten a discount at any time from Amazon (e.g. like for being a loyal customer). 

Just like out of the old cable company playbook, there are no rewards for loyalty. It’s only until you’re about to shove off, a tempting carrot appears.

What’s AT&T’s game plan?

Customers don’t know what the game plan is for AT&T.

I’ve spent the last couple of days reading a number of interviews with AT&T execs over the last year about HBO Max. 

There were one-on-one interviews, coverage from talks with investors and podcasts. It’s clear that these execs didn’t expect to hit a major roadblock with distribution of HBO Max. 

The current beef with Amazon and Roku prior to launch wasn’t in the plan.

In fact, the math for AT&T’s Chief Operating Officer John Stankey was simple and straightforward.  

“It’s a bit of an IQ test of why you wouldn’t want twice as much content,” Stankey told investors in November.

I guess I’m not that smart.  

Tony Gonclaves, head of HBO Max, suggested during an episode of The Vergecast what “the plan” seems to be. 

Somehow, AT&T will convince Roku and Amazon that HBO Max has a great value outside of the existing HBO customer base.

Too soon?

Should AT&T have held off on launching HBO Max? 

As a customer, looking back at how AT&T execs have been talking a big game about HBO Max has led me to question its path forward.

Stankey — indisputably a smart guy who developed The X-Files during his TV career — felt confident enough before Max’s launch date to even talk smack about the Disney+ catalog, saying it wasn’t “that deep”. 

We could debate the merits of the Disney+ catalog all day.

  • Disney+ launched with a significant catalog of 4K HDR movies at half the price of HBO Max. There were plenty of originals to watch. Oh, and you still have the option to bundle Disney+ with Hulu (for more 4K Hulu Originals) and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month. 
  • Max took off in High Definition 1080p. At $15 per month. No Roku or Amazon support. There is no standout original show or movie outside of the HBO wheelhouse. No Baby Yoda moment on the horizon. 

That doesn’t feel very Max.

Within a few zippy months, Disney+ essentially amassed the same number as HBO’s current subscriber base. Disney+ is now far ahead of that — with more than 50 million subscribers

After Disney+, there is no soft opening. 

And even Disney cut a last minute deal with Amazon to make sure they were on every platform. Meanwhile, there are millions of HBO customers paying full price and are essentially subjected to a blackout of HBO Max. 

Disenfranchised Amazon Prime and Roku customers deserve a #MaxRefund. But don’t expect to ever get one. 

“It’s their world. We’re just living in it.”

It’s our money. And they get to fight over it. 

Welcome to the new cable company treatment. 

What’s your take on HBO Max being left off of Amazon Prime and Roku? Be sure to leave a comment and tell fellow readers what you think. For more news on streaming, how-to guides and reviews, head over to the main page of The Cord Cutting Report or follow the CCR on Google News. 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Hard to follow the author’s argument/conundrum
    But lumping on Roku as a new cable company missed the mark. Roku doesn’t charge a fee to use it’s consolidated platform. It offers convenience and ease of use of its gateway into a plethora of free (with ads) or subscription access to a host of paid subscription services (which it gets a cut). Bit to lump it in with the most hated media company AT&T is an invalid and misleading piece of journalistic ledger domain.

  2. ROKU has proven that they are just as bad as Cable TV and don’t give a damn about their subscribers. They will probably deny us Peacock too in July. But ROKU seems to forget how fast Time Warner Cable died a few years ago when they pulled a power play, like ROKU is doing know, by pulling CBS off their cable platform.

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