Coronavirus adds a further complication to every streaming service. And new ones like HBO Max, which are just trying to get off the ground amid a universal stoppage of film and TV production, will be hit especially hard.

Moreover, HBO Max has yet to create an identity for itself. It will always have HBO, but we already know that alone is not enough to grow the service into the Netflix competitor AT&T wants it to be. The HBO brand is featured prominently on the app, but it’s also easy to see how its content will get sucked into the streaming vortex, swirled around, and then spit back out next to every other type of content, to the point where HBO’s shows are indistinguishable from “Max Originals” and licensed titles.

Image for article titled HBO Max’s launch library is impressive, but that’s not enough to challenge Netflix
Image: HBO Max

(Notably, there is no launch hub for Max Originals, despite one being displayed in early marketing for the platform.)

The initial dearth of strong originals has perhaps led to some lackluster marketing, as WarnerMedia searches for creative ways to advertise content consumers have already seen. One much-maligned ad the company released placed HBO’s Tony Soprano next to characters from the network sitcoms Friends and The Big Bang Theory:

The strength of HBO Max’s initial library and its large base of existing HBO subscribers (about 35 million in the US) should bring attention to the service and make it more competitive. But there’s no current plan to monetize those existing subscribers beyond what they’re already paying for HBO. The only way to make Netflix truly nervous is to get better at original content, to bring in the new viewers who have until now resisted the allure of HBO’s unique brand of prestige.

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