MoffettNathanson: HBO Now has as many as 1.9M subs, Sling TV has up to 200,000

Delving into what he admits is the very inexact science of measuring app downloads, MoffettNathanson media analyst Michael Nathanson estimates that HBO Now currently has between 970,000 and 1.9 million subscribers.

The analyst also estimates that Dish Network's (NASDAQ: DISH) Sling TV service has between 100,000 to 200,000 customers. (An estimate published last month by Re/code put the OTT pay-TV bundle at around 250,000 subs.) Finally, Nathanson said that Viacom's Noggin SVOD platform has a subscriber base of between 160,000 to 320,000 customers.

With programmers and pay-TV companies trying to better understand consumer behavior in regard to cord cutting and cord shaving, the statistics matter -- few OTT platforms share usage data.

HBO would not comment to FierceCable's on MoffettNathanson's estimate. However, the subject could come up Wednesday, when parent company Time Warner releases its second-quarter earnings.

For his estimate, Nathanson said he used data from Sensor Tower on iOS app usage. To create a benchmark, Nathanson relied on Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), which does release subscriber numbers. 

He counted the number of Netflix iOS app downloads dating back to the first quarter of 2013, then compared it to the SVOD service's actual subscriber growth. From that, he was able to come up with an equation that provided similar numbers for HBO Now, Sling TV and Noggin. 

"We are the first ones to admit these estimates are very rough and only should be used as ballpark numbers," conceded Nathanson, who added -- with more than a hint of sarcasm -- that his methodology is not that much different from how TV audiences are counted. 

Nonetheless, Nathanson's work drew criticism on Twitter from a peer, BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield, who said he disagreed with the findings. In late June, Greenfield published his own estimate -- also relying on app download figures -- that pegged HBO Now at around 850,000 to 1 million subs. 

HBO Now's subscriber cound "may be up to a 1 million or a bit over," Greenfield told FierceCable, "but it definitely is not surging month-to-month based on my data."

For more:
- read this MoffettNathanson blog post (sub. req.)

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This story was updated on July 31 to include a comment from analyst Richard Greenfield.