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AT&T CEO suggests Netflix’s price hike is great news for HBO Max

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HBO Max isn’t the priciest service in the game anymore

The HBO Max logo against a dark background with white circles around it. Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Netflix keeps getting more expensive — and HBO seems to think that’s great news for its own business. During the earnings call for HBO Max parent AT&T on Wednesday, the company’s chief executive John Stankey said the higher price of competitors will help HBO grow in the US.

“We said the market was going to come to us on pricing, and lo and behold, we are no longer the high-priced offer in the market,” Stankey said. “The nice part about that is we think it’ll allow us to have domestic growth as we move forward.”

While he didn’t specifically cite Netflix, the company recently raised its prices across all of its plans, bumping its popular standard plan to $15.50 from $14 per month. Its 4K plan, meanwhile, now costs $20 per month. That means Netflix now outprices most major on-demand streaming services in the market — including HBO Max, which costs $15 per month or $10 per month with ads.

That puts HBO Max in a fairly competitive position, particularly as Netflix’s cheaper plans lack premium features like support for 4K included on HBO Max. (While Netflix does have a cheaper $10 plan, Netflix skimps on features like HD and UHD streaming as well as simultaneous streams on that tier.)

In terms of its competitive edge over streaming services that launched their products at lower price points to win over subscribers, Stankey said those services are likely to have difficulty ramping up their average revenue per user, adding, “It’s about being very diligent in adding customers at a moderated pace.”

The company’s domestic HBO Max and HBO businesses are also continuing to rebound following the company’s exit from Amazon Prime Channels last year. By the end of 2021, domestic subscribers jumped from 45.2 million to 46.8 million, falling just shy of the 47 domestic subscribers it had prior to the breakup. Addressing the decision during the call, Stankey said the move was beneficial for the business in the long term.

“At the end of the day, you want full control of your customers,” Stankey said. “Those customers are all going to come back into the offer — it may take a couple of quarters for that to happen, but there will eventually be a product out there that they’re going to look at and see they want to be part of.”

Ultimately, HBO Max sees more value in having direct access to its customer base, particularly to set up WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery. It’s better, Stankey added, “to have them there where you have direct access, control of them, can market to them, know what they’re doing, than have it be in some black box where you absolutely have no idea what somebody else is doing with aggregating your content and your exposure to the customer.”

Globally, HBO and HBO Max grew to 74 million subscribers by the end of 2021. AT&T groups the two content arms together, so a one-to-one comparison to its streaming rivals is a little tricky. But the company did grow its business by 13 million between HBO and HBO Max from the year prior, no doubt helped by a year of straight-to-streaming releases and a new ad-supported plan.

It looks like Stankey was right: HBO Max didn’t need Amazon after all.