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AT&T says HBO Max and quality broadband make for a compelling combo



HBO Max will only be as good as the underlying internet connection powering the streaming video service, which launches May 27. 

At least, that’s according to Jeff McElfresh, CEO of AT&T Communications. Of course, he has a perspective forged from his role as the executive in charge of the telecom giant’s broadband, wireless and subscription video services (AT&T owns WarnerMedia, parent of HBO).

But McElfresh said he believes that HBO Max’s launch will be smoother than those of other services, which have suffered from outages (think Disney Plus’ launch, or select episodes of Game of Thrones for HBO Go), and to him, that’ll make a difference. 

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“We can offer a unique value proposition to consumers and certainly a level of service where we don’t encounter service interruptions,” McElfresh said in an interview earlier this month. “We know how to scale.”

(Check out our previous stories with McElfresh. He discussed how AT&T was connecting first responders to broadband and offered an update on the state of 5G.)

There’s a lot at stake with HBO Max, AT&T’s entrant in the streaming wars. Over the past few months, media giants like Walt Disney’s Disney Plus and tech giants like Apple’s TV Plus have launched in an attempt to woo consumers, a battle made more dramatic by the coronavirus-fueled lockdown that’s kept us in our homes. 

HBO Max taps into the library of Warner Bros. content, like Friends, and other licensed programming, like South Park, alongside a slate of original shows and movies. It’s the latest service to launch, and at $15 a month, the most expensive. There’s a promotion where the first year’s monthly rate is $12 if you sign up ahead of the launch. 

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AT&T will also be bundling the service with select wireless and broadband plans, which it hopes will give it an edge over other services. HBO subscribers get the upgrade automatically. McElfresh said the length of the trial period is still under consideration. 

Ahead of the launch, McElfresh noted that viewing has spiked generally, and subscription video on demand is up, though he said it was too early to tell if the lockdown has permanently accelerated the trend of cord cutting. 

McElfresh offered some clarity on AT&T’s plethora of video services, formed from acquisitions and a number of new initiatives that failed to pan out. There’s U-Verse TV, DirecTV, AT&T Now (formerly DirecTV Now), AT&T Watch TV, AT&T TV, HBO Go, HBO Now and the upcoming HBO Max. 

AT&T has stopped offering U-Verse TV, which had been its traditional cable TV service. It’s also no longer pushing services like AT&T Now (which has been bleeding customers) and AT&T Watch TV. McElfresh said the company still serves customers in each service, and won’t just kill any of them until they’ve all migrated away. 

“Having to care and nurture eight video products is something that is our responsibility,” he said. “That is not our strategy.”

To simplify things, McElfresh said, AT&T TV would be its key live-TV service for any customer with a decent broadband connection, while anyone who doesn’t have speedy internet can still get DirecTV satellite service. Lastly, HBO Max will be its option for on-demand content. 

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