Deeper Dive—HBO Max confusion hits Roku subscribers on iOS

HBO Max
AT&T and WarnerMedia are in the process of shrinking the HBO app universe and hopefully mitigating some of the confusion for subscribers. (HBO Max)

HBO Max has been out in the world for more than three weeks now and it still doesn’t have a deal with Amazon or Roku. That’s causing problems beyond the TV screen.

The standoff between AT&T/WarnerMedia, Amazon and Roku has hurt consumers in numerous ways. HBO Max subscribers can’t watch the service on their Amazon or Roku devices, which could be bumming out lots of people considering those platforms have more than 80 million combined users. People who subscribed to HBO Now through either Amazon Prime Video Channels or the Roku Channel aren’t receiving the full HBO Max experience like so many other HBO and HBO Now subscribers on other platforms.

These issues and more have been well documented so today let’s focus on how Roku’s HBO Now subscribers are being impacted when they want to watch HBO on their iOS devices.

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Mark Lowenstein, managing director at Mobile Ecosystem, a consulting and advisory services firm, described his own experience within the HBO/HBO Max/HBO Now conundrum. He subscribes to HBO Now through his TCL Roku connected TV and pays $15 per month. He was previously able to get HBO Now on his television and through the HBO Now app on his iPad and iPhone. After HBO Max launched, though, he said his HBO Now iPad and iPhone apps ceased to work and that he was instead directed to install an 'update' which downloaded HBO Max.

“But that app does not work on either device because I get my HBO subscription to Roku. It's curious that I can still get HBO Now on my TV but not on my phone/tablet,” wrote Lowenstein in an email. “I mentioned this in a tweet and received a DM back from HBO Max. They offered a $15 gift card and suggested that on my Mac, phone, and PC that I can go to HBO Now via a browser...which is a very different experience than the app.”

Lowenstein is not alone in this.

What Roku HBO Now subscribers are experiencing on iOS devices is directly due to HBO Max having a distribution deal with Apple but not with Amazon or Roku. Since HBO has a deal with Apple for HBO Max, it no longer offers HBO Now on iOS because all existing HBO Now members are able to port into Max. So, HBO Now as a stand-alone is out at iOS which means subscribers who signed up for HBO Now via other platforms with HBO Max deals (e.g. Amazon and Roku) cannot watch their HBO Now subscription on their iOS devices because Apple has shuttered HBO Now and ported all of its users into HBO Max.

AT&T and WarnerMedia are in the process of shrinking the HBO app universe and hopefully mitigating some of the confusion for subscribers. The company said that it will remove the HBO Go app from primary platforms on July 31, 2020 but said that most customers who have traditionally used HBO Go for streaming HBO content will be able to continue doing the same thing with the HBO Max app.

WarnerMedia is also rebranding the HBO Now app and desktop portal as HBO. Existing HBO Now subscribers will have access to HBO through the rebranded HBO app on platforms where it remains available and through play.hbo.com.

However, HBO did not respond to questions about when the rebranded HBO app will launch. For now, the only HBO apps that show up in the App Store are HBO Max and HBO Go, meaning Roku’s HBO Now subscribers will have to settle for the browser if they want to watch HBO on their iPhones and iPads.

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