AT&T CEO: HBO Max will see some ‘spikiness’ in 2021

AT&T CEO John Stankey (AT&T)

HBO Max just reported some significant subscriber growth in the fourth quarter and the company will see more growth in fits and starts throughout 2021.

The service got a boost from the Christmas Day release of “Wonder Woman 1984” and this year it’s going to get 17 or 18 more Warner Bros. films – ranging from blockbusters like “The Matrix 4” and “The Suicide Squad” to possibly smaller films like this week’s “The Little Things.” AT&T CEO John Stankey warned during today’s earnings call that not all of films will spur the same kind of subscriber growth.

“We’re going to see a little bit of spikiness,” he said. “We’re not going to see the kind of subscriber spikes that maybe we saw in December and early January every time we put a movie out. That really isn’t the design or intent of the plan.”

Stankey said HBO Max will have an opportunity to build marketing and promotional opportunities around some of Warner Bros.’ tentpole releases that have “broader buzz and broader application across the customer base.” He said other films would work to fill in the niche between those releases.

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HBO Max now counts 41 million domestic subscribers and nearly 61 million worldwide, up sequentially from 38 million and 57 million, respectively. AT&T also said that HBO Max activations doubled since end of the third quarter and reached 17.2 million by the end of the fourth quarter.

Activations among legacy HBO subscribers started somewhat slowly in 2020 but the Warner Bros. film release plan could likely accelerate that metric.

It’s unclear how the 2021 plan could affect the HBO Max and Warner Bros. businesses beyond this year but Stankey said he thought the WarnerMedia team made the right call for now while other studios “snowplow” their releases.

“We’re going a very crowded theatrical field as we get into late 2021 and early 2022 and we don’t believe that magically just because there’s more content showing up in theaters all at the same time that that’s going to dramatically increase the size of the moviegoing population at that time,” he said.