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Cinemax is an American premium cable and satellite television network owned by Home Box Office, Inc., a subsidiary of WarnerMedia Entertainment. Programming featured on Cinemax primarily consists of recent and older theatrically released motion pictures, and original action series, as well as documentaries and special behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Based at the HBO offices inside WarnerMedia's corporate headquarters at 30 Hudson Yards in Manhattan's West Side district, Cinemax operates eight 24-hour, linear multiplex channels; a traditional subscription video-on-demand service; and a TV Everywhere streaming platform for Cinemax's linear television subscribers (Max Go).
Cinemax is also sold independently of traditional and over-the-top multichannel video programming distributors a la carte through Apple TV Channels and Amazon Video Channels, which feature VOD library content and live feeds of Cinemax's linear television services (consisting of the primary channel’s East and West Coast feeds and, for Amazon Video customers, the East Coast feeds of its seven multiplex channels). As of September 2018, Cinemax's programming was available to approximately 21.736 million U.S. households that had a subscription to a multichannel television provider (21.284 million of which receive Cinemax's primary channel at minimum).
Cinemax launched on August 1, 1980, as HBO's answer to The Movie Channel (which at the time, was owned by Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, a joint venture between Time Warner predecessor Warner Communications and American Express; TMC is now owned by the Showtime Networks subsidiary of ViacomCBS – previously under Viacom from 1983 to 2005). Cinemax was originally owned by Time-Life Inc., which later merged with Warner Communications in 1989 to form the present-day WarnerMedia (formerly called Time Warner).
Unlike HBO – and most cable and broadcast channels already on the air at the time of its launch – Cinemax had broadcast a 24-hour-a-day schedule from its sign-on (HBO ran only nine hours of programming a day from 3:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern Time until September 1981, when it adopted a 24-hour weekend schedule that ran until midnight Eastern Time on Sunday nights; it implemented the round-the-clock schedule on weekdays as well on December 28 of that year). On-air spokesman Robert Culp told viewers that Cinemax would be about movies and nothing but movies.
At the time, HBO featured a wider range of programming, including some entertainment news interstitials, documentaries, children's programming, sporting events and television specials (in the form of Broadway plays, stand-up comedy acts, and concerts). Movie classics were a mainstay of Cinemax at its birth, presented "all uncut and commercial-free" as Culp said on-air. A heavy schedule of films from the 1950s to the 1970s made up most of the channel's program schedule.
Cinemax succeeded in its early years because cable television subscribers typically had access to only about three dozen channels due to system headends at the time of Cinemax's debut being capable of carrying only a limited number of channels. Movies were the most sought-after program category among cable subscribers at the time, and that Cinemax would show classic films without commercial interruptions and editing for time and content made the channel an attractive add-on for HBO subscribers.
In many cases, cable providers would not sell Cinemax to customers who did not already have a subscription to HBO. The two channels were typically sold as a package and were usually offered at a discount for subscribers that chose to get both channels. The typical pricing for a monthly subscription to HBO in the early 1980s was US$12.95 per month, while Cinemax typically could be added for between US$7 and $10 extra per month.
In 1983, Time-Life Inc. filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against independent station KOKI-TV (now a Fox affiliate) in Tulsa, Oklahoma and its owners Tulsa 23, Ltd. over the use of the slogan "We Are Your Movie Star", which both the television station and Cinemax were using as their slogans at that time; the suit went into proceedings in an Oklahoma Federal District Court, Cinemax lost the case. As additional movie-oriented channels launched on cable television, Cinemax began to change its programming philosophy in order to maintain its subscriber base.
First, the channel opted to schedule R-rated movies during daytime slots (HBO would only show R-rated movies during the nighttime hours, after 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, a policy that network largely continues to adhere to as of 2015); Cinemax then decided it could compete by airing more adult-oriented movies that contained nudity and depictions of sexual intercourse, launching the weekly "Friday After Dark" late-night block in 1984 (which also featured the short-lived adult drama Scandals and a series of anthology specials under the Eros America and Eros International banners).
During the network's first decade on the air, Cinemax had also aired some original music programming: during the mid-to-late 1980s, upon the meteoric rise in popularity of MTV, Cinemax began airing music videos in the form of an interstitial that ran during extended breaks between films called MaxTrax; it also ran music specials under the banner Cinemax Sessions as well as the music interview and performance series Album Flash during that same time period. The mid- and late-1980s also saw the addition of a limited amount of series programming onto Cinemax's schedule including the sketch comedy series Second City Television (whose U.S. broadcast rights were acquired by the channel from NBC in 1983) and the science fiction series Max Headroom (which had also aired on ABC from 1987 to 1988).
Comedy specials were also occasionally broadcast on the channel during the late 1980s, under the Cinemax Comedy Experiment banner, featuring free-form sketch and improvisational styles from various rising and established stand-up comics (such as Howie Mandel, Chris Elliott, and Eric Bogosian). Although its programming had diversified, Cinemax had foremost remained a movie channel. In February 1988, the network premiere broadcast of the 1987 action-comedy Lethal Weapon became the highest-rated telecast in Cinemax's history at that time, averaging a 16.9 rating and 26 shares.
On March 4, 1989, Warner Communications announced its intent to merge with HBO parent Time Inc. for $14.9 billion in cash and stock. Following two failed attempts by Paramount Communications to legally block the merger, as Paramount was seeking to acquire Time in a hostile takeover bid, the merger was completed on January 10, 1990, resulting in the consolidated entity creating Time Warner (now known as WarnerMedia), which as of 2018, remains the parent company of Cinemax and HBO.
By 1990, Cinemax limited its programming lineup mainly to movies. However starting in 1992, Cinemax re-entered into television series development with the addition of adult-oriented scripted series similar in content to the softcore pornographic films featured on the channel in late-night (such as the network's first original adult series Erotic Confessions, and later series entries such as Hot Line, Passion Cove, Lingerie and Co-Ed Confidential), marking a return to adult series for the channel.
From 1992 to 1997, Cinemax aired daily movie showcases in set timeslots, centering on a certain genre which differed each day of the week; with the introduction of a new on-air presentation package in 1993, the genre of a given showcase was represented by various pictograms that usually appeared within a specialized feature presentation bumper before the start of the movie; the symbols included: "Comedy" (represented by an abstract face made up of various movie props, with an open mouth made to appear like it is laughing), "Suspense" (represented by a running man silhouette within a jagged film strip), "Premiere" (represented by an exclamation mark immersed in spotlights), "Horror" (represented by a skull augmented with a devil horn and a gear-shaped eye, overlaid in front on a casket), "Drama" (represented by abstract comedy and tragedy masks), "Vanguard" (represented by a globe overlaid on a film strip), "Action" (represented by a machine gun and an explosion) and "Classic" (represented by a classic movie-era couple embracing and kissing). The particular film genre that played on a specific day (and time) varied by country.