AT&T’s latest subscriber figures make it seem like HBO and its sister service HBO Max are doing pretty well — great, even! In a regulatory filing this week, AT&T revealed that it beat its projected year-end goal with 73.8 million total subscribers between HBO and HBO Max (even after its breakup with Amazon). Not too bad, right?
But that win comes after a year of highly anticipated movie debuts meant to balloon subscriber numbers, and it’s still tens of millions of subscribers behind rivals like Disney Plus and Netflix. The numbers also come with some pretty big caveats. In other words, hold the applause.
For one, AT&T’s figures (earlier reported by Variety) conflate two separate services — HBO, its cable business, and HBO Max, its streaming service — and they don’t distinguish how many subscribers each service has individually. WarnerMedia spokesperson Jaclyn Mandelbaum told The Verge that more information “will be broken out in AT&T’s earnings in a couple weeks” but declined to specify figures for each service.
AT&T’s growth also looks less impressive given the high-profile content slate it served over the last year, including titles like Dune, The Matrix Resurrections, and the third season of Succession. On top of that, HBO Max added a lower-priced tier and launched internationally partway through the year — both of which should have helped boost its subscribers substantially.
Disney Plus added more than twice as many subscribers over a similar time period. Disney’s streaming service, which launched roughly six months before HBO Max, reported 118.1 million paid subscribers as of October 2021, up from 73.7 million about a year earlier. HBO’s 73.8 million record, on the other hand, is only up from 61 million subscribers globally at the end of 2020.
Streaming data is virtually impossible to tackle on a one-for-one comparison level for myriad reasons, not the least of which being that everyone is playing by different rules. That’s to say nothing of how piracy, account-sharing, and features like auto-play can significantly skew a truly accurate picture of subscriber and title success.
Last year should’ve been HBO Max’s year to win. It’s going to have to find new ways to grow without the help of a highly anticipated day-and-date slate.