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Why isn’t HBO Max available in Canada?

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The logo of the HBO Max streaming service. Credit: HBO

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If you’re Canadian and confused about all the buzz around HBO Max, you’re not alone. Last year, the streaming service launched in the United States and has garnered quite a bit of attention for its exclusive content, which has included early access to theatrical movies like Mortal Kombat and Wonder Woman: 1984, and exclusives ranging from Zach Synder’s Justice League to the Friends reunion special. HBO Max itself isn’t available in Canada, but much of the content available on the service is, which is where things get a bit complicated.

The complicating factor for Canadians are the licensing deals that HBO (and its parent company, WarnerMedia) has had in place long before HBO Max existed. In the US, the launch of HBO Max was at least partly timed to WarnerMedia reacquiring the streaming rights to certain shows and movies—much was made at the time of Friends leaving Netflix before its debut on HBO Max, as you may recall. However, in Canada and elsewhere, WarnerMedia still has licensing deals in place with various other companies, which continue to retain the rights to stream various shows and movies in their respective countries.

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Where Can You Watch HBO Max Content in Canada?

Wonder Woman 1984
Credit: Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman 1984, premiered on HBO Max in December in the United States.

In Canada, most, but not all, HBO Max content is available on Bell Media’s Crave (with the HBO add-on package), which has been home to content from HBO Canada since the streaming service launched. However, this is not a blanket deal. As a result, Canadians have often had to wait to see if and when a show or movie would be available in Canada (as was recently seen with the Friends special, which did end up on Crave after some uncertainty).

One big exception are the Warner Bros. films that have debuted on HBO Max in the US concurrently with their theatrical release. This arrangement is set to continue throughout 2021 with big-budget movies like Dune and The Suicide Squad. In Canada, Warner Bros. theatrical releases have also been available for early home viewing, but only through regular rental platforms like iTunes and Google Play (at a hefty cost per rental). They have then only later become available for streaming on Crave well after the usual theatrical release window.

That advantage for HBO Max in the US does look set to end next year, however, as Warner Bros. has said it plans to return to traditional theatrical debuts for all of its major movies in 2022. Crave seems set to become even more of a home for all HBO Max content in Canada with that change.

What About The Future?

As with all things streaming, nothing is permanent. While there is no indication that HBO Max will become available as a standalone service in Canada anytime soon, WarnerMedia has made clear that it plans to expand the service internationally, starting with Latin America this summer and several European countries later this year. Canada could conceivably figure into those plans at some point in the future, but Bell Media’s licensing arrangement with HBO has been described as a “long-term deal,” which would seem to suggest that Canadians looking for HBO Max content will need to keep their Crave subscriptions for at least the next couple of years.

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