HBO Max in the UK… Or Not

HBO Max in the UK… Or Not

Yesterday AT&T held an event called WarnerMedia Day that largely detailed the launch plans for their new streaming service HBO Max, which builds off the successful HBO.

So lots of announcements of how you’ll be able to see Friends episodes and watch the new Game of Thrones sequel on their platform.

From a UK perspective it seems that we’re not quite going to get HBO Max. At least not for the next few years.

“We’re prioritising our international expansion in Latin America and Europe where we currently operate HBO Networks, and have existing Over The Top (OTT) services. Initially, we’ll complement these efforts by leaning on our licencing relationships with key partners in other territories where we believe market conditions warrant a different approach. For example, we recently secured a broad and long-term licencing and co-production deal with Sky in the UK, Germany and Italy that provides stability and predictability so we can produce the best content for our services around the world.” [My emphasis]

That’s really interesting to learn, and quite probably a big win for Sky, who lest we forget, are owned by AT&T’s rivals Comcast, and who themselves are planning the launch of its own streaming network – Peacock – next year.

I’d previously thought it a strong possibility that WarnerMedia would break ties with Sky and go it alone to sell HBO Max in the UK as another OTT service. But it sounds like AT&T is happy to take Sky’s/Comcast’s money and not have to do everything all at once. That’s a different approach to Disney who do seem likely to be leaving Sky, and hence the delay in a launch date for Disney+ in the UK.

Whether European Sky subscribers get the full HBO Max OTT experience is unclear. Perhaps it’s likelier that things will continue as they do now, with HBO programming scattered across Sky’s channels.

HBO branding is strong on Sky, but they don’t get branded or co-branded channels, and their programming currently comes and goes from Sky’s on demand services, with Sky only ever offering a subset of HBO’s full offering. (E.g. You can’t currently watch Game of Thrones on the Sky platform)

To me, this feels like a corporate body playing safe and not going full gas like Disney.

It’s a great win for Sky though. They do continue to be home of Game of Thrones (for a few months of the year anyway), and they continue to have a premium co-production partner for projects like Chernobyl.