Q. I was reading an article this morning that said HBO Max isn’t getting many subscriptions. I am surprised by that. I got it and I like it a lot. What do you think the problem is? — Renee, Rochester, New York.
Renee, I like it, too, as do many others. The expanded version of the regular HBO channel has something for everyone, from an impressive library of movies from WarnerMedia and Turner Classic Movies to classic sitcoms such as Friends and Big Bang Theory to HBO’s always exemplary lineup of original series.
The problem here is that I can say that because I can actually get HBO Max, but not everyone can. And that’s a big part of the problem.
Let me explain. But first, a little background.
WarnerMedia, the AT&T unit that governs HBO Max, is expected to layoff thousands of people in the coming weeks, according to The Los Angeles Times. HBO Max’s sluggish start since its May 27 launch is not the chief reason behind the ousters, but it has contributed. AT&T, which is betting heavily on HBO Max to be a streaming powerhouse, reported it had around four million subscribers after the first month. That may sound like a large number, but contrast that with Disney Plus which said it had 10 million sign-ups after the first day.
AT&T tried to rectify the problem last month by reducing the price from $14.99 a month to $11.99 a month for a three-week promotional period. But it’s unclear if that helped; we might know more on October 22 when AT&T releases its third quarter earnings report.
If HBO Max is still struggling, it would not surprise me, despite my fondness for its lineup. The service faces two major obstacles that makes it extremely difficult to grow.
1. No Roku. No Amazon Fire TV
More than four months after launch, HBO Max amazingly is still not available on the nation’s two leading streaming devices. AT&T is still arguing with Roku and Amazon over everything from fees to placement to marketing authority. While Peacock, a streaming rival (owned by Comcast/NBC) bulled its way onto Roku last month, AT&T can’t seem to find a way on board. It’s nearly impossible to become a mass streaming product if you’re not on at least one of those devices, if not both.
2. People Are Still Confused By HBO and HBO Max
Many consumers still don’t understand there’s a difference between HBO and HBO Max. But they do know they can get ‘HBO’ from Roku and Fire TV.
That’s right. Roku and Fire TV carry HBO, but not HBO Max. Consequently, there’s little pressure on Roku and Fire TV to add HBO Max because many of their HBO users don’t know what they’re missing. They have HBO and that’s good enough for them.
AT&T has simply failed to communicate why HBO Max is better than HBO. (The miscommunication was heightened early by the existence of two other HBO names, HBO Now and HBO Go. AT&T in July finally eliminated HBO Go and changed the name of HBO Now to just HBO, but consumer confusion still abounds.)
I am very curious to see what AT&T has to say on October 22. HBO Max subscriptions may be doing better now, but I suspect that until it finds a way to get on both Roku and Fire TV, it will struggle.
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— Phillip Swann
Featured image: Nicole Kidman in HBO’s The Undoing, scheduled to premiere October 25.