HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s streaming service set to debut in 2020, is estimated to reach 50 million subscribers by 2025 according to a Monday forecast by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. The forecast was delivered on the company’s quarterly earnings call.
While the details of HBO Max’s global rollout haven’t yet been released (they’ll be released today by 3pm PT), the projections indicate sustained investment in the service alongside positive projections. Currently, parent-company AT&T is expected to invest $1.5-2 billion in 2019 with $1 billion per year each year after. This does not include programming spending projections for HBO, Warner Bros., and former Turner networks.
While successful, these current projections fall behind Disney’s projections for Disney+ (set to launch mid-November), which anticipates 60-90 million subscribers by 2024. For reference, Netflix has roughly 83 million subscribers in the first five years of its emergence as a standalone service.
Forthcoming streaming services will, of course, face a more challenging market than did early Netflix. Netflix’s own early growth was fueled in part by its relative lack of competitors compared to the market forthcoming services face.
All the emergent services–Apple TV+ (Apple), Disney+ (Disney), HBO Max (WarnerMedia), and Peacock (NBCUniversal)–are entering a market long-dominated by Netflix first and foremost, followed by Amazon Prime Video and Hulu (Disney-owned with NBCUniversal an equity stakeholder owning 33%).
Each competitor thus has to set themselves apart in an industry with a dominant market leader that will soon be flooded by competitors with their own relatively deep libraries of exclusive content. Moreover, each service will face a market where consumer spending is a zero-sum game–the more streaming services emerge and pull exclusive content from the others, the less value each individual service provides and the greater the financial burden for consumers of having multiple services.
The Optimism of HBO Max
While Disney+ may be more optimistic given the current high profile of its acquired properties–Disney is proudly peppering its launch with new Star Wars and Marvel content–HBO Max’s projections are indeed optimistic. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson explains:
“This is a product that’s going to be very different from any other product you’ve seen in the market so far. This is not Netflix, this is not Disney. This is HBO Max. It’s going to have a very unique position in the marketplace.”
His optimism stemmed in part because of parent-company AT&T’s wireless capabilities and industry position:
“Our customer relationships are something any streaming company would want,” Stephenson said. “I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
HBO will also have exclusive access to a considerable array of popular content. In addition to HBO’s content, HBO Max has announced streaming rights to Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and recently announced that Studio Ghibli’s animated classics will be available on the service.
The strategies of the services to set themselves apart are starting to become clear. Disney+ is heavily highlighting its deep library of content alongside its MCU, Star Wars, and National Geographic properties. HBO Max is setting itself apart with prestige content–HBO and Studio Ghibli included–alongside popular sitcom classics. Apple TV+ has been making high profile deals with Steven Spielberg, Oprah, and other content creators for new and original series. Whether these strategies will be enough to maintain a strong subscriber base against the competition will be seen over the next few years.