HBO and HBO Max Beat 2021 Subscriber Forecast

Finishing the year with 73.8M subscribers

WarnerMedia’s HBO and HBO Max ended the year with 73.8 million total global subscribers, according to a January 5, 2022 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and a January 5 news release. This subscriber total is higher than AT&T’s subscriber forecast of 70 million to 73 million subscribers by year end, per AT&T’s third quarter financials and AT&T CEO John Stankey.

The 2021 year-end subscriber count represents an increase of 4.4 million subscribers over the total subscriber count of 69.4 million as of September 30, 2021 and an increase of 12.5 million year-over-year. Further data for HBO and HBO Max will be revealed in the company’s fourth quarter 2021 earnings report to be released on January 26.

Third quarter 2021 subscriber highlights

Other subscription data revealed for the third quarter 2021 included:

  • Domestic subscribers of 45.2 million, an increase of 7.1 million year-over-year
  • Domestic HBO and HBO Max subscriber ARPU of $11.82
  • Total revenue of $8.4 billion, an increase of 14.2%, driven by higher content and other revenue
  • Direct-to-consumer subscription revenue up 25% year-over-year
  • Cash content spend of $4.8 billion

HBO and HBO Max’s success

There were several reasons for HBO and HBO Max’s success in 2021. HBO Max, which began as a direct-to-consumer streaming service in May 2020, launched during COVID, giving it access to a captive audience of viewers. A year later, HBO Max launched an ad-supported tier, making the SVOD service more affordable and accessible to viewers on a budget.

HBO Max also had a solid content slate in 2021, including The Matrix Resurrections, Dune, The Sex Lives of College Girls, Succession, And Just Like That, and Sex and the City. Another plus for HBO Max was its expansion beyond the U.S. into 46 total markets, including Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean with more countries to come.

In a virtual investor conference last Wednesday, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar commented on why HBO Max has been successful.

“It’s not one series or one movie that drove the growth throughout the year, it really was consistent execution throughout all four quarters. The business is not about what you do, but about what you do consistently. And this team and our creative partners have delivered hits each and every quarter,” Kilar said.

Engagement for the streaming service has also been growing, with HBO Max setting new records in December, becoming the biggest month for the streamer since its May 2020 launch.

What’s next?

Just before Christmas, HBO Max teased some of the 2022 content fans, followers and subscribers can expect to see in 2022, including streaming exclusives produced by Warner Bros. Here are a few highlights:

  • HBO Originals: Westworld (season 4), The Gilded Age (new series), Euphoria (season 2), Barry (season 3), A Black Lady Sketch Show (season 3)
  • Max Originals: Gossip Girl (season 2), Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin (new series), Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts (new special), The Staircase (new limited series), Sesame Street (season 52), Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai (new series), Flight Attendant (season 2)

Merger with Discovery Inc.

In May 2021, AT&T announced it would spin off WarnerMedia and merge with Discovery, Inc. in a $43 billion deal. The deal is still pending, but it has been receiving the required regulatory approvals so the deal is likely to close in the middle of 2022. In the company’s November 3, 2021 earnings release, Discovery Inc. said it 20 million total direct-to-consumer subscribers due, in part, to the Summer Olympic Games and Shark Week.

Insider Take

When HBO Max launched, it was hard to imagine another major streaming service to compete with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. But HBO has always produced great content, so the concept of HBO Max and its success shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 19 months, HBO Max has grown its subscriber base, produced award-winning content, expanded into new markets and exceeded its own forecasts. With the Discovery Inc. merger just months away, this is likely to be an even bigger year for HBO and HBO Max. The two companies’ combined resources, assets, talent, and content slate have the potential to overtake some of the smaller SVOD players in the coming years.