With over 4 million subscribers in its first month or so on the market, HBO Max might seem like a huge success. Certainly it's got quite a lead on Quibi. But that number -- 4.1 million, to be exact -- doesn't take into account some other factors. According to internal data, over 30 million HBO subscribers who could qualify for free HBO Max, have not taken advantage of the opportunity. The numbers will change in the coming months, as WarnerMedia discontinues the HBO Go and HBO Now apps for most subscribers, pushing them over to HBO Max as their primary app.
Based on numbers released earlier this weke, you can break down that of the more than 36 million US HBO subscribers, only 4.1 million of them have gone to HBO Max yet. About 2/3 of those are "wholesale" subscribers, who get their HBO through a cable or pay TV provider; another 3 million are retail consumers who subscribe directly from Warner.
As the apps continue to evolve, WarnerMedia will likely push most or all of those 3 million retail subscribers to HBO Max. That move may have to happen before industry watchers, or even WarnerMedia itself, can get a real handle on how the behavior of the wholesale consumers will change over time. The pandemic also plays a role, since HBO Max launched without most of its planned original programming, and some of the highest profile content -- from DC movies and shows to the Friends reunion special -- don't even have a clear target date at the moment.
Of course, there are two ways to read the headline here: HBO Max seems to have a gigantic potential audience waiting around the corner, easily lured in, and if they are compelled to migrate their accounts, HBO Max would instantly become a power player in the streaming market. On the other hand, 30 million people could have checked it out for free and haven't, which means they likely don't perceive HBO Max as having much added value at present.
As the content that everyone is excited for starts to hit the platform, it could be that the numbers change, especially if millions of people suddenly find themselves drawn to big properties like the Harry Potter movies, which are currently all available on HBO Max. The numbers are interesting to look at and it feels like they should mean something -- but it will probably be another year before we can really make sense of it all.