Similar to other streaming services, HBO Max offers the option to sign up to either an ad-free or an ad-supported subscription. While this wasn’t always the case, the arrival of the ad-supported version in 2021 made it possible to sign up at a cheaper price than usual. As someone who’s typically an Ad-Free HBO Max subscriber, it was surprising to see just how good the ad-supported version is.
Before delving into the experience, the cost is clearly the main reason to go with the ad-supported plan. While the standard Ad-Free HBO Max subscription costs $14.99 per month, the ad-supported version is just $9.99 per month. With $5 saved each month, this is the equivalent to $60 in savings over the course of a full year. Speaking of which, HBO Max does also offer annual subscriptions, and these yearly options can further help to reduce the cost of either the ad-free or ad-supported plan.
It is worth noting that the ads are not the only difference between the two plans. For example, the plan without ads also unlocks the ability to download videos to watch offline, and the ability to watch in 4K when available. These are more added value benefits than anything else, which likely means that the right subscription tier for an individual home will most likely be determined by the ad experience.
HBO Max ads are shown before and during episodes, movies and other content that’s available on the platform. Officially, HBO Max explains that subscribers can “expect to see about 4 minutes of ads per hour.” In our testing, that seemed to be a relative accurate assessment of what those signing up to the HBO Max’s With Ads plan can expect.
Our experience with HBO Max ads
Compared to some other services, the ad experience on HBO Max was considered to be light. Ad breaks are spaced out and not too intrusive. Although they were relatively consistent across videos, the length of the video does seem to have an impact on how many ads per hour a viewer will see.
Below is an example of the ad experience when watching a 95 minute movie.
|Ad break||Time of break||Number of ads||Ad length||Break length|
|1st||Before movie||2 ads||8 and 15 seconds||23 seconds|
|2nd||15 minutes||1 ad||25 seconds||25 seconds|
|3rd||31 minutes||2 ads||30 and 10 seconds||40 seconds|
|4th||48 minutes||2 ads||28 and 30 seconds||58 seconds|
|5th||61 minutes||1 ad||30 seconds||30 seconds|
|6th||77 minutes||1 ad||30 seconds||30 seconds|
In contrast, below is an overview of the ad experience when watching a much shorter 21 minute episode.
|Ad break||Time of break||Number of ads||Ad length||Break length|
|1st||Before episode||1 ad||15 seconds||15 seconds|
|2nd||8 minutes||2 ads||30 and 30 seconds||60 seconds|
|3rd||16 minutes||2 ads||30 and 30 seconds||60 seconds|
Based on these two examples, the ads per hour was better during longer videos. For example, while the 95-minute movie resulted in an average of 2 minutes and 10 seconds of ads per hour, the 21 minute episode resulted in an average of 6 minutes and 25 seconds of ads per hour. If taking both the episode and movie into account, the average ads per hour works out to be just over four minutes, which is directly in line with HBO Max’s claim.
It should also be made clear that these numbers can and do vary. For example, when watching a different short (22 minutes) episode the average ads per hour was a little better, albeit still higher than the per-hour average for longer videos.
Below is a summary of what was encountered with seven different videos which varied in length (including the two detailed above).
|Video length||Per hour|
|1st break||2nd break||3rd break||4th break||5th break||6th break||7th break|
|21 mins||6 mins, 25 seconds||15 seconds||60 seconds||60 seconds|
|22 mins||4 mins, 5 seconds||15 seconds||30 seconds||45 seconds|
|29 mins||3 minutes, 6 seconds||15 seconds||30 seconds||45 seconds|
|49 mins||3 mins, 3 seconds||15 seconds||45 seconds||45 seconds||45 seconds|
|95 mins||2 mins, 10 seconds||23 seconds||25 seconds||40 seconds||58 seconds||30 seconds||30 seconds|
|109 minutes||1 min, 42 seconds||22 seconds||30 seconds||45 seconds||30 seconds||15 seconds||15 seconds||30 seconds|
|114 minutes||2 mins, 3 seconds||25 seconds||30 seconds||45 seconds||45 seconds||15 seconds||30 seconds||45 seconds|
Not all HBO Max videos have ads
One extremely important point to note is that ads are not always shown with every video when signed up to the With Ads plan. Instead, all of the HBO Originals appear to be provided ad-free to With Ads subscribers, which is a pretty nice benefit. It should also be noted that this exclusion only appeared to be for actual HBO Originals, such as Barry and The Sopranos. In contrast, all of the Max Originals, such as The Flight Attendant, Hacks, and Our Flag Means Death did include ads.
Another interesting thing about the ads is that once the break has been played and the viewer rewinds to before the ad break, the ads will play again. However, this time the ads don’t come with a timer and can be skipped. So, while ads in general can’t be skipped the first time, they can be skipped when viewed a second time. This is slightly different to other services which tend to either skip the ads once they’ve been played or force to viewer to sit through them again.
The one exception to this is when exiting the video. HBO Max won’t show fresh ads when resuming a video, but if the viewer then rewinds to before a previous ad break, they will be forced to watch ads once again. This can vary across devices, however. When watching a video on the HBO Max website, ads that have been watched already can be skipped after exiting the video and resuming at a later time.
Is HBO Max’s ‘With Ads’ plan worth it?
In short, yes. For those that want to save on a cost of an HBO Max subscription, the With Ads plan is a good option. Ads are not overly frequent, don’t last too long, and don’t appear to be as repetitive as with some other services. For many of the most popular HBO shows, subscribers will actually find that they don’t see any ads at all, in spite of being an ad-supported subscriber. All of which makes the ad experience fairly light and worth considering as an alternative to the Ad-Free version.
Of course, if ads in any capacity is a problem, and a subscriber doesn’t mind paying more each month, then the without ads subscription is the way to go. This is particularly true if signing up to the annual plan, considering the savings on offer almost bring the cost of Ad-Free down to the same level as the monthly ad-supported plan. Then again, with HBO Max also offering an annual saving on its With Ads plan, that might be the best option overall.