AT&T Inc. (T.N) is relying on HBO and a little help from “Friends” to anchor its new streaming service, an attempt to challenge Netflix Inc (NFLX.O).
The company’s WarnerMedia division announced Tuesday that it will call the online platform “HBO Max,” following through on a pledge to make the premium network the heart of its streaming strategy. It also said the sitcom “Friends” -- currently a popular show on Netflix -- will be going to the new service, which is slated to debut next spring.
AT&T acquired Time Warner for US$85 billion last year, and the new streaming service is a key test of its efforts to capitalize on a sprawling telecom and media empire. It’s racing with Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N) and Comcast Corp.’s (CMCSA.O) NBCUniversal, which are also launching new streaming services.
All three companies are playing catch-up to Netflix, which has nearly 150 million customers for its streaming service. Netflix already operates around the world, while the new products will start in the U.S. HBO Max also is coming later than originally expected: WarnerMedia had previously been aiming to release the service at the end of this year.
But Netflix will have to replace many of its popular rerun series as those shows go to other platforms. The company’s stock dipped on the news that “Friends” would be leaving, and Netflix lamented the move on Twitter.
HBO Max will include 10,000 hours of programming from across the WarnerMedia group of networks and studios, including the new DC Comics show “Batwoman,” reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Pretty Little Liars,” documentaries from CNN, kids’ programming from Cartoon Network and anime from Crunchyroll.
“HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform,” Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia’s entertainment and direct-to-consumer operations, said in a statement.
WarnerMedia Chief Executive Officer John Stankey has said HBO Max will build on HBO, which has 35 million customers in the U.S. The network has a library that includes “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Game of Thrones.” Upcoming HBO shows include a science-fiction program created by producer Joss Whedon, a satire from “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci, and a horror series produced by J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele.
Greenblatt will try to lure new customers to HBO Max with new original series and movies exclusive to the service. Kevin Reilly will oversee the development of those originals series, and has already ordered more than half a dozen shows. Actress Anna Kendrick will star in a romantic-comedy series, and Kaley Cuoco, from Warner Bros.’ “The Big Bang Theory,” will appear in a thriller produced by Greg Berlanti.
Berlanti scored one of the richest deals in TV history last year, part of a growing arms race for Hollywood talent. WarnerMedia touted its deals with Berlanti and actress Reese Witherspoon, both of whom will produce original series for the service.