Amid the stalled talks between Amazon and WarnerMedia over getting HBO Max on Fire TV devices, the two sides reached an agreement on one front, at least: Fire TV users who subscribe to HBO Now will continue to be able to access the service, which is being rebranded simply as HBO, as of Aug. 1.
The companies’ deal to distribute HBO Now on Fire TV was set to expire July 31. It appears that the extension — allowing Amazon’s Fire TV customers to keep watching the legacy HBO standalone service on the connected-TV devices — is a placeholder as the two sides try to hammer out a deal for HBO Max.
Amazon notified Fire TV customers of the development in emails this week. In addition, the ecommerce giant noted that customers can continue watching HBO content on Amazon devices with an HBO subscription via Prime Video Channels (which is one of the points of contention in the HBO Max negotiations, as WarnerMedia wants all distributors to carry HBO Max as a standalone service).
Roku — which is also in a standoff with WarnerMedia over HBO Max distribution terms — already had a deal to keep the “HBO” app for HBO Now subscribers.
Meanwhile, as previously announced, WarnerMedia is killing off the 10-year-old HBO Go app, which it has offered to pay-TV subscribers who get HBO through a cable, satellite or telco provider. HBO Go will be discontinued on all platforms as of July 31 — again, part of the media company’s strategy to push all legacy HBO customers to HBO Max. (WarnerMedia says customers who have HBO through pay-TV providers that don’t yet have HBO Max deals will be able to continue to authenticate into hbogo.com through Aug. 31.)
In announcing second-quarter results, AT&T CEO John Stankey said about 3 million new subscribers purchased HBO Max directly from WarnerMedia via online signups in the roughly one-month period following its May 27 launch. There were 4.1 million total activations of the HBO Max app, meaning that the vast majority of HBO’s existing subscribers haven’t yet accessed HBO Max even though it is available for no extra charge to those who already pay for HBO. The company said it had 36.3 million total U.S. subscribers to HBO Max and HBO as of the end of Q2.
Undoubtedly, HBO Max’s uptake would have higher if it were available on Fire TV and Roku, which each have more than 40 million active users. The disagreements between WarnerMedia and the two OTT device platform providers revolve around revenue splits, as well as asks from Amazon and Roku for ad inventory as well as licensed content from WarnerMedia for their free-streaming services.
During the marathon five-plus-hour House Antitrust Subcommittee on Wednesday grilling the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, the topic of the HBO Max/Amazon Fire TV stalemate came up.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was asked by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) whether Amazon was using its status as a “gatekeeper” to demand content from WarnerMedia in return for agreeing to offer HBO Max on Fire TV. Bezos replied, “I’m not familiar with the details of those negotiations” but said he thought the companies eventually will reach an agreement.
Asked by Raskin whether it was appropriate for Amazon to use its “gatekeeper” status to extract additional terms in deal talks, Bezos responded that in general, “there could be scenarios, if we’re just talking in the abstract, where it could be inappropriate and scenarios where it would be very normal business and very appropriate.”
WarnerMedia’s position is that it wants HBO Max distributed in the same way that Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and others are — in other words, as standalone apps, rather than as “channels” in which HBO’s content is reaggregated into Amazon Prime Channels or the Roku Channel.
“Unfortunately, Amazon has taken an approach of treating HBO Max and its customers differently than other services and their customers,” Stankey said on AT&T’s Q2 call.