As COVID surged in the early months of 2021, and with the vaccine then still an arm’s length away, U.S. households turned to a common antidote to the pandemic blues: more streaming television.
But the biggest beneficiary of the most recent quarter wasn’t streaming leaders Netflix and Amazon. It was HBO Max, which nabbed 2.8 million new US subscribers in the first quarter of 2021.
HBO Max, which launched last year, combines the catalogue of its namesake prestige cable network with original content and huge library of parent company WarnerMedia. It now has 9.7 million paying subscribers in the US.
HBO Max’s current growth strategy is an aggressive one that includes putting films meant for theatrical release — such as Oscar contender Judas and the Black Messiah and kaiju cage match Kong Vs Godzilla — directly into homes. It’s paid off.
- HBO Max’s overall subscriber count (now 63.9 million worldwide) still pales in comparison to Netflix, which has 74 million US and Canada subscribers, and 208 million worldwide.
- But HBO Max’s staggering growth in the first quarter made for almost six times the 450,000 US and Canada subscribers Netflix lured in. It was Netflix’s slowest quarter since 2013.
To use some streaming industry parlance, we’ll call that buffering.
The State of the Streaming Wars: HBO Max wasn’t the only Netflix challenger to take advantage of audiences stranded at home over the past year. Almost every media conglomerate has moved for a slice of the streaming pie, and audiences remain hungry:
- Disney+, which launched in November 2019, reached 100 million global subscribers in early March.
- Paramount+, the streamer formerly known as CBS All-Access, now has nearly 30 million subscribers worldwide.
- NBCUniversal’s Peacock claimed 33 million subs in February, though it’s unclear how many are members of the free, ad-based tier.
With vaccines in arms, will everyone still stay home to watch TV?.