UPDATED with executive comments. HBO Max and HBO combined for 73.8 million global subscribers by the end of 2021, ahead of company projections for 70 million to 73 million.
In a brief interview with Deadline, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar called 2021 “the year that HBO Max broke through.” He said the service is now in 46 countries after starting to roll out globally last June. Asked about the split between U.S. and non-U.S. subscribers, Kilar demurred, saying AT&T planned to announce those figures when it releases fourth-quarter earnings later this month.
The streaming stat and a handful of other metrics were delivered this morning by WarnerMedia parent AT&T ahead of an appearance by CEO John Stankey at a Citibank investment conference.
HBO Max launched in May 2020 and initially got off to a very sluggish start before finding its footing. The streaming service, which can be accessed at no extra charge for paying HBO customers, started rolling out globally last year and also introduced a lower-priced, ad-supported tier. After initial branding confusion given the existence of other HBO-branded streaming apps in the market, HBO Max landed distribution with Roku and a new setup with Amazon, giving it access to two major U.S. gateways.
Internationally, HBO Max is still years away from entering the key markets of the UK, Italy and Germany due to prior distribution deals with Sky. Asked about whether WarnerMedia would try to renegotiate the Sky agreements, which run through 2024, Kilar said, “We’re always talking with our partners.” HBO Max is expected to have an even greater international focus once WarnerMedia merges with Discovery and separates from AT&T, pending the OK from regulators later this year.
The streaming service has benefited from day-and-date film releases from Warner Bros, particularly fourth-quarter releases of Dune and the fourth Matrix installment. Introduced as a pandemic measure, the release pattern is not expected to stay in effect, but it has helped onboard a number of new subscribers. Asked about movie windows, Kilar said the plan is to adopt a “film-specific” release strategy, with certain films going to theaters and streaming simultaneously and others in an exclusive theatrical window.
Along with the streaming numbers, AT&T said it had 3.2 million postpaid phone net adds, its highest total in more than a decade.
After moving mountains to enter the entertainment business in 2018 with the $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T announced last year it would spin off WarnerMedia. The company also wrapped a money-losing foray into pay-TV last year, spinning off DirecTV into a new entity backed by private equity firm TPG.