HBO Max hits 40.6 million total subs as legacy HBO continues to shrivel, but not quite die

HBO Max on a TV
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AT&T released its Q1 2021 earnings today, which means we get a peek inside its massive operation. And for our purposes, that means a look at properties like HBO and HBO Max — the latter of which is closing in on its first birthday.

After four (not-quite-full) quarters, HBO Max now has a total of 40.6 million subscribers. That includes those who subscribe to HBO Max at "retail" — which is to say you go to and sign up, or are billed by a third party like YouTube TV or Apple — as well as those who get HBO Max through a "wholesale distributor," which also includes AT&T itself.

That breakdown is pretty skewed, however — only a quarter of subscribers are of the retail variety, and AT&T doesn't break out how many of the remaining 75 percent get their subscription subsidized by AT&T itself, as part of some kind of promotion. AT&T, for example, offers free subscriptions to HBO Max if you have a particular subscription with its wireless company, or broadband internet. (And full disclosure: I get free HBO Max with my AT&T Fiber subscription.)

“We continued to excel in growing customer relationships in our market focus areas of mobility, fiber and HBO Max,” John Stankey, AT&T CEO, said in the press release accompanying the earnings report. “HBO Max continued to deliver strong subscriber and revenue growth in advance of our international and AVOD launches planned for June.”

Meanwhile, the number of legacy HBO subscribers has dropped to a mere 55,000 — down from some 5.6 million as of October 2020, and down 99 percent year over year, from a near-high of 28.8 million. That's by design, of course. While AT&T never really came out and said it in as many words, it's effectively been moving as many people as possible from the old HBO to HBO Max.

That's not to say that the legacy HBO service is necessarily going anywhere anytime soon. There still are some 3.5 million "commercial" HBO subscribers, meaning accounts that are billed on a bulk basis, such as hotels. And while that number continues to decrease it's only down 18 percent year over year — not nearly as big a drop-off as the retail side.

Internationally, the legacy HBO service grew slightly in Q1 for a total of 19.7 million subscribers. AT&T and Warner Media are still prepping an international push for HBO Max, however, expecting to bring it to 60 countries by the end of 2021.

And that's not the only expansion we'll see out of HBO Max this year, with the advertising-supported version that's going to launch in June.

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.