According to AT&T’s current subscription numbers, HBO and its sister provider HBO Max are doing really well – even outstanding! AT&T announced this week that it had surpassed its expected year-end goal of 73.8 million total customers between HBO and HBO Max in a regulatory filing (even after its breakup with Amazon). Isn’t it not bad?
However, that victory comes after a year of highly anticipated movie launches designed to boost subscriber numbers, and it still trails rivals Disney Plus and Netflix by tens of millions of users. The figures are also accompanied by a number of significant cautions. To put it another way, hold the applause.
For starters, AT&T’s estimates (previously published by Variety) mix two separate businesses — HBO, its cable company, and HBO Max, its streaming service — and do not differentiate how many customers each service has individually. More information “will be broken out in AT&T’s earnings in a couple weeks,” WarnerMedia spokesperson Jaclyn Mandelbaum told The Verge, but declined to detail figures for each service.
Given the high-profile content schedule it offered over the last year, including titles like Dune, The Matrix Resurrections, and the third season of Succession, AT&T’s increase appears to be less spectacular. Furthermore, HBO Max added a lower-cost tier and launched globally in the middle of the year, both of which should have helped the service significantly increase its subscriber base.
Over the same time span, Disney Plus added more than twice as many subscribers. As of October 2021, Disney’s streaming service, which launched six months before HBO Max, had 118.1 million paid customers, up from 73.7 million a year earlier. On the other hand, HBO’s record of 73.8 million subscribers is only up from 61 million at the end of 2020.
For a number of reasons, including the fact that everyone is playing by different rules, tackling streaming data on a one-to-one comparison level is nearly impossible. That’s not even taking into consideration how piracy, account sharing, and features like auto-play can skew a true image of subscriber and title success.
HBO Max’s year to win should’ve been last year. Without the support of a highly anticipated day-and-date slate, it will have to find new methods to grow.