HBO/HBO Max Only Gained 11 Million Subscribers In The First Year Of The Streaming Platform

Believe it or not, today marks the one-year anniversary of WarnerMedia launching HBO Max. Boy, oh boy, what a year it’s been! We’ve seen the streaming platform launch with a fairly tepid response only to see the publicity explode when the studio announced that all of WB’s 2021 films would be debuting on the streaming service the same day as theatrical, making HBO Max one of the must-buy streaming services for blockbuster films. So, to celebrate its first year in existence, HBO/HBO Max has released definitive subscriber numbers to show just how much the streaming platform has helped the premium network grow. And, uh, the numbers are, well…underwhelming.

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Before we get to the numbers, it’s important to note that WarnerMedia combines the subscriber counts for HBO and HBO Max when tabulating the subscriber count. So, it’s impossible to know how many of the subscribers are HBO viewers only and how many are exclusively subscribed to the HBO Max streaming service. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive in.

According to HBO/HBO Max, over the first year that the streaming service has been in existence, 11.1 million people have subscribed. When you add the 33.1 million subscribers that existed in the HBO bubble before HBO Max, that means, currently, the combined total of subscribers now sits at 44.2 million. That’s a large number, without a doubt, but also isn’t such a spectacular number when you actually look at the streaming competition and the amount of money that WarnerMedia has funneled into the HBO Max platform.

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As we try to find apples-to-apples comparisons, things don’t play out very favorably for HBO/HBO Max. In the case of Disney+ (which has a monthly fee that is roughly half of HBO Max), the first year of that service brought in a ridiculous 73.7 million subscribers, which is an absolutely monstrous number. You could chalk that up to an anomaly, for sure. But nevertheless, as it stands, Disney+ (with more than 100 million subscribers) has more than double the total of HBO/HBO Max, which is worth noting.

What about non-Disney+ competition? In 2020, after already dominating the space for years, Netflix gained a total of 37 million subscribers, which again, dwarfs the growth of HBO/HBO Max. And then there’s Peacock, which just launched last July and earned 33 million “sign-ups” (the streaming service does have a free tier) by the end of 2020 (less than six months). All that to say, only adding 11.1 million doesn’t seem like a lot in 12 months when the competition is doing larger numbers.

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Now, to be completely fair, there is one big elephant in the room that must be addressed—international availability. When you look at Netflix, especially, the global footprint is way larger for that service than HBO Max. But even taking that into consideration, as HBO Max begins a much larger rollout internationally in 2021 and 2022, the yearly growth number really doesn’t seem like such a massive gain, especially in a year when more people were stuck at home streaming entertainment from their houses than ever before.

Another issue that has to be mentioned is the marketing push that has been given to HBO Max. And by “marketing,” I’m talking about the fact that WarnerMedia has sacrificed the box office of some of the biggest films of the year in favor of spiking subscriber numbers on HBO Max. Films like “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “The Little Things,” and a ton more throughout this year have already or will be debuting on HBO Max the same day as theaters. This is an attempt to get people to spend $15 to buy a streaming subscription instead of a movie ticket. Finding out the total box office damage being done to those films is unclear right now, but it’s safe to assume, after the dust has settled, WarnerMedia will have sacrificed more than $1 billion in box office revenue with this model by the end of 2021.

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And let’s not forget about “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” which was positioned as a huge exclusive for HBO Max and doesn’t seem to have sparked a ton of interest outside of those diehard fans.

To be fair, none of this is to say that HBO Max is bad and not worth a sign-up. The opposite is true, in fact. There are TONS of films and TV shows that justify the monthly spend. And in addition, HBO Max is about to have an ad-supported variant that will be $10 a month, putting it in better competition with Netflix and Disney+. So, the future looks bright. But after one year, the numbers aren’t all that impressive, sadly.

Here’s an official breakdown of the numbers from HBO/HBO Max: