HBO Max debuted last week to a less than enthusiastic reception, due to its lack of Amazon Fire and Roku apps and 4K content. However, AT&T users with Apple devices will be glad to learn that HBO Max streams will not count against their mobile data limits.
The Verge reports the data cap exemption is happening due to AT&T’s “sponsored data” program. The program allows services to pay AT&T to have their video traffic not count against AT&T users’ data caps. And, since AT&T owns HBO Max, this goes on the books as an expense for HBO Max and income for AT&T, meaning it all zeroes out:
According to an AT&T executive familiar with the matter, HBO Max is using AT&T’s ‘sponsored data’ system, which technically allows any company to pay to excuse its services from data caps. But since AT&T owns HBO Max, it’s just paying itself: The data fee shows up on the HBO Max books as an expense and on the AT&T Mobility books as revenue. For AT&T as a whole, it zeroes out. Compare that to a competitor like Netflix, which could theoretically pay AT&T for sponsored data, but it would be a pure cost.
AT&T can give HBO Max this preferential treatment as there is no longer any such thing as net neutrality in the United States. No streaming services appear to be using AT&T’s sponsored data program other than AT&T-owned services.
“The network is the plumbing, and the content is the water. And you’re seeing water and the plumbing kind of coming together,” Tony Goncalves, AT&T’s boss of HBO Max, said in an interview on the Vergecast.