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Ad-supported HBO Max rumored at $9.99 a month, but there's a big catch

HBO Max on Apple TV
(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

We still don't have an official price for the ad-supported version of HBO Max, which is coming in June. But an anonymous report out of CNBC — citing "people familiar with the matter" — puts that price at $9.99 a month.

That's a perfectly reasonable possibility. It's higher than other ad-supported VOD services like Hulu ($5.99) or Peacock (free) or Paramount Plus ($5.99 for now, and $4.99 starting in June). But then again HBO Max has content that's generally considered to be more "premium" than what you'll find elsewhere. It's the digital video version of the "Apple Tax."

But there's a major difference between the full version of HBO Max, and this supposed $9.99 version. CNBC noted it six paragraphs down in its piece, and something we've heard WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar say recently on the Recode Media podcast

The ad-supported version of HBO Max is strictly for HBO Max original shows, not the HBO-specific and HBO-legacy content, both of which you get with the full $14.99 subscription to HBO Max. Presumably that means shows like Mare of Easttown wouldn't be available for $9.99 a month. Or The Nevers. Or the new season of In Treatment. But you'd get The Big Show With Bethany, or Legendary, or That Damned Michael Che. (Again, WarnerMedia hasn't yet completely or officially detailed exactly what to expect.)

"A lot of this is the function of, again, trying to be as thoughtful as possible in thinking about HBO and the history of HBO," Kilar told Vox's Peter Kafka. "What we felt was the right thing to do, given the history of HBO and the fact that HBO really has done something that no other studio has done in Hollywood in terms of delivering something at a consistent level — we just felt like having interruptive advertising in those originals didn't feel like the right thing to do."

But those are two very different streaming services, we'd argue. (And that does nothing to help the nomenclature issue that's plagued HBO Max from the start.) What it's really going to do is bifurcate HBO Max, which was just shy of 41 million paid subscribers as of March 31, 2021. It's more like "HBO Max Lite," though you'll definitely never hear anyone in a suit and tie refer to it as such.

So, yes. It's a cheaper HBO Max. But it's in no way the same HBO Max.