HBO and HBO Max top 41 million subscribers as AT&T continues to bleed video customers elsewhere

(Image credit: WhatToWatch)

HBO and HBO Max now have a combined 41 million subscribers, parent company AT&T announced today with its fourth quarter 2020 earnings. That's up from 38 million at the end of Q2 2020, and up about 5.2 million from Q1.

AT&T CEO John Stanley credited a single release with helping to push HBO Max way ahead of its planned timetable.

"The release of Wonder Woman 1984 helped drive our domestic HBO Max and HBO subscribers to more than 41 million, a full two years faster than our initial forecast.”

Wonder Woman 1984 also was the first film to be presented on HBO Max in 4K resolution with high dynamic range. Warner Bros. has since announced that it'll fast-track the release of Wonder Woman 3.

HBO Max is the next generation of HBO that encompasses the greater entertainment universe that falls under the AT&T umbrella. That includes content from the Warner family — including Warner Bros. films and TV — the Turner family of channels like TBS, TNT and TMC, the D.C. Universe, Studio Ghibli, and more. The legacy HBO service continues to live alongside HBO Max, but AT&T has heavily pushed to upgrade its customers, and all legacy HBO subscriptions have access to HBO Max.

Both services cost exactly the same — $14.99 a month.

AT&T says it invested approximately $800 million in HBO Max in the fourth quarter alone, and it spent more than $2 billion on the service in all of 2020. Subscription revenue was up 8 percent, and advertising revenue was up 7 percent.

The entertainment sector was hit hard by COVID-19 in 2020, of course, and AT&T estimates a negative impact of $1.6 billion from COVID due to lower theatrical and TV revenues. And with the future of theaters still uncertain, every Warner Bros. film will see a simultaneous release on HBO Max in 2021. Wonder Woman 1984 was the first film to hit HBO Max under that scheme, landing both in theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day.

On the video side, AT&T TV Now lost a net 27,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, which should take it down to approximately 656,000 total subscribers. That's down from 926,000 subscribers in Q1 2019 — a 29 percent decrease. More recently, AT&T has announced that it's no longer accepting new subscribers to the AT&T TV Now service, and that going forward everything will live under the AT&T TV brand, which also includes those who get the IP-based video service via self-installed hardware at home. That means it'll live under the greater "premium TV" category, which on the whole lost 617,000 subscribers in Q4. AT&T blames that loss on "competition, lower gross adds from the continued focus on adding higher value customers, and a programming dispute."

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for and Mobile Nations and is the Dad part of Modern Dad.