AT&T is putting a confident foot forward in its claims of success with the launch of the HBO Max streaming service. According to AT&T, HBO Max and HBO now have a total number of 36.3 million subscribers as of July 2020, which is a net of 1.7 million subscribers since December, when HBO had 34.6 million subscribers. HBO Max launched on May 27th, so that 1.7 million number is actually not too bad of a first haul for the streaming service's launch.
AT&T CEO John Stankey added that there have been 3 million retail subs for HBO Max in the 1st quarter, with 4.1 million total activations of the app across the existing HBO subscriber base, “Customer engagement [for HBO Max] has exceeded our expectations," he noted on a recent investors call. As Variety notes, however, there is a bit of numerical jujitsu coming from AT&T, as it's clear that a lot of what's propelling HBO Max at the onset seems to be the migration of existing HBO subscribers to the new streaming service - rather than people that never subscribed to HBO signing up for the first time to use HBO Max.
There are already signs that HBO Max is being reshuffled - specifically on the side of the DC Comics brand. The DC Universe streaming service has ended annual subscriptions, and its original content (Doom Patrol, Harley Quinn, Stargirl) is porting over to HBO Max. Time Warner landed J.J. Abrams to help develop new content for HBO Max, including major big-budget DC series like the upcoming Green Lantern Corps. More recent movie releases like Birds of Prey are debuting on HBO Max and overall it seems like DC will be an even more important block of the service.
However, there are still understandable reasons why HBO Max is not doing better:
The service is $14.99 / month for new subscribers, which is one of the more expensive starting points for a streaming service. HBO Max doesn't yet have enough buzzworthy exclusive content to pull in people who never were interested in HBO's content. The service also doesn't yet work on Roku or Amazon Fire - which is a major distribution hurdle, as many streaming customers currently use those devices for TV viewing.
For now, it seems that the 2020 streaming wars still see Netflix standing king, with Disney's streaming services (Disney+ and Hulu) offering the biggest challenge. Amazon Prime Video continues to build a solid brand, but 2020 looks to be choppy waters for the newcomers (HBO Max, Quibi, Peacock).