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Who Can Get HBO MAX for No Additional Cost (for the First Year)
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HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s newly announced streaming service set to launch in May of 2020, will initially be free, for at least the first year, to roughly 10 million people who are already paying for HBO. But, unfortunately for anybody who doesn’t enjoy Inception-esque pay structures, figuring out if you’re one of those 10 million people may be surprisingly painful. And there are roughly 34 million people who currently pay for HBO in the U.S., so just because you pay for HBO at this point does not mean you will be eligible for the free year of HBO Max.

HBO Max’s launch announcement video. 

But fret not, because when it’s all said and done, the deciding factor as to whether or not you’ll have access to a free year of HBO Max—as it stands as of right now—is simple: If you pay for HBO by paying AT&T or one of its wholly owned subsidiaries directly, then you’ll get the free year of HBO Max. For those who pay for HBO through a provider that’s not owned by AT&T, however, such as Amazon Prime, the path to free HBO Max is currently much less clear, and may not materialize at all.

Let’s break down this news, which comes via The Verge, a little more:

The most critical fact to keep in mind when deciphering whether or not you’ll be one of the people currently paying for HBO to gain access to at least a year of free HBO Max when it launches next year is that WarnerMedia, which is launching HBO Max, is owned by AT&T. The second most important fact to keep in mind is that the telecom behemoth wants to keep the people paying it or one of its subsidiaries directly, paying them directly. Hence the reason they’re offering the free year of Max.

To put this a bit more succinctly, according to an AT&T post covering WarnerMedia’s unveiling of HBO Max, “Existing AT&T HBO Customers and HBO Now Direct-Billed Subscribers [will] get HBO Max at No Additional Cost.” The post also notes that “Customers Who Subscribe to AT&T’s Premium Video, Mobile and Broadband Packages Will be Offered Bundles at Launch with HBO Max at No Additional Cost.” Note that while these people will get HBO Max for free, they will still be paying for their normal HBO subscriptions. 

If you have HBO Now, and you signed up for it directly through the HBO Now website, then you will have access to the free year of HBO Max. Again, these customers are paying for HBO Now directly to HBO, which is owned by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T, so they get the year free.

If you pay for HBO through your DirecTV subscription, then you will also get the free year of HBO Max. DirecTV is wholly owned by AT&T (the telecom company bought it for a whopping $48.5 billion in 2015), so it’s happy, and able, to give you the free year.

The preliminary logo for Warner Media's new steaming service, known as HBO Max

If you have AT&T TV Now, you will also have access to the free year of HBO Max, because, you guessed it, you’re money is going straight to the telecom giant.

For the 24 or so other million people who don’t pay AT&T or one of its subsidiaries directly for HBO, they do not currently have access to the free year. So if you pay for HBO via Apple or Spectrum or Verizon Fios or any other platform not owned by AT&T, no free year for you! (Please read that in the Soup Nazi’s voice.)

This may change, however, because AT&T wants to beef up the number of HBO subscribers from its current 34-ish million figure in the U.S. to 50 million by 2025. Keep in mind that this will mean 50 million HBO Max subscribers, as HBO will be donezo once Max has launched.

To add those additional 16 or so million U.S. subscribers by 2025, WarnerMedia needs to get its HBO Max product out to as many people as possible. This means that it’s not WarnerMedia being stingy with the free year of Max, but rather that other mega-corporations don’t necessarily want to offer up the service for free and possibly get them hooked. All the big media players have their own, competing streaming services after all, and they don’t necessarily want to give an advantage to HBO Max.

Regardless of whether or not you’ll be paying for the first year of HBO Max, the streaming service is planning to provide a pretty irresistible library, including 10,000 hours of content that will include everything from Game of Thrones to Rick and Morty to The Matrix to new originals like this astoundingly expensive Green Lantern series. Although for $14.99 a month, HBO Max may not get new subscribers without giving them a free taste first.

Are you now able to tell whether or not you’ll have access to free HBO Max, or are things still kind of hazy for you? Let’s all get our PhDs in streaming service pay structures together in the comments!

Images: HBO