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Here’s who’s eligible for free HBO Max

The answer is a little complicated

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HBO Max is AT&T’s new crown jewel in the streaming landscape, building upon what its predecessor HBO Now started so many years ago. But the $14.99-per-month HBO Max is more than HBO Now, and to prove it, AT&T wants to give HBO Max away for free to as many customers as possible.

HBO Max is going to be free for a lot of people, but figuring out who those customers are is still difficult to parse. AT&T is going to give its wireless customers who already subscribe to HBO through AT&T’s services (like AT&T TV or U-Verse TV) a free one-year subscription to Max. That’s approximately 10 million people. The goal is to get those people to eventually continue subscribing to HBO Max once the year is over, dropping the older HBO subscription, which also costs the same $15 per month. Also, subscribers of premium AT&T mobile and broadband services will be eligible for HBO Max bundles at no extra charge.

HBO Max is also going to be a free upgrade for people who already subscribe to HBO Now, but there’s a bit of a caveat: it’s only free for people who are billed directly through HBO, according to AT&T. That means the offer is only eligible for customers who subscribe through hbonow.com and are billed by HBO. Customers who subscribe to HBO Now via other services, like Amazon Prime or Apple, are not eligible for the free offering.

Similarly, customers who subscribe to HBO through other cable providers and more traditional pay TV providers, like Comcast, will also not be eligible for a free year of HBO Max — at least for now. John Stankey, AT&T’s chief operating officer, told investors at an HBO Max media event on Tuesday night that the company is working to strike deals with those traditional providers. It’s increasingly beneficial for AT&T to have customers subscribe to HBO Max directly through AT&T instead of through third parties, and AT&T has designed its systems to reward customers who subscribe directly through AT&T.

Don’t expect anything too soon, though. Cable providers pushed back against HBO Now when that streaming service launched in 2015, seeing it as a direct competitor to their own services that also included HBO. AT&T is instructing customers who are subscribed to HBO Now through third-party platforms to “stay tuned for more details as we get closer to our launch date.”

AT&T wants as many customers as possible to sign up for HBO Max. Stankey’s goal is to hit 50 million HBO Max subscribers in the United States by 2025. HBO currently has approximately 34 million subscribers in the US and around 130 million worldwide. Getting all of those customers to move over to a new streaming service may be more difficult than Stankey imagined. And even if Stankey manages to move all 34 million HBO subscribers — not all of whom will receive free HBO Max upgrades — to Max, HBO still needs an additional 16 million new subscribers by 2025 to hit those goals.

HBO Max is representative of everything AT&T bought WarnerMedia for, packaging its entire collection — more than 10,000 titles — into a sleek-looking interface that feels more like a social network than a streaming service. There are podcasts tied into top-tier shows and human-curated “highlight” packages that should help subscribers cut down on time spent endlessly scrolling. HBO Max will launch in May 2020 for $14.99 a month.