HBO adds 3 million more subscribers, former parent AT&T says

Premium cable network HBO added three million new subscribers in the first three months of the year, bringing the total number of subscribers to 76.8 million, the brand’s former parent company AT&T announced on Thursday.

Those figures include customers who subscribe to HBO Max either as a standalone product or through participating cable, satellite and streaming TV providers. AT&T does not offer separate data for HBO Max from its traditional multiplex channel.

In the United States, customer accounts rose by 4 million between March 2021 and March 2022, AT&T said, with the company logging 48.6 million American subscribers for HBO and HBO Max.

HBO Max costs $15 a month or $150 a year when purchased directly from HBO’s website. Some cable companies include HBO Max as part of an HBO subscription, which can cost more.

AT&T separated itself from its entertainment subsidiary WarnerMedia, which included HBO and HBO Max, earlier this month. Immediately after, the separate company merged with Discovery, Inc. to form Warner Bros Discovery.

“AT&T has entered a new era,” said John Stankey, the company’s chief executive, noting that the company without its entertainment division would be able to better focus on building out its telecommunication services.

AT&T said WarnerMedia’s profit was squeezed in large part by the launch of CNN Plus, a direct-to-consumer streaming service that offered online-exclusive news programming and documentaries from the cable news brand.

CNN Plus launched in late March, less than two weeks before AT&T was able to consummate WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery. On Thursday, Discovery executives announced they were pulling the plug on the project and would provide prorated refunds to subscribers who paid at least $3 to access the service.

Discovery will instead focus on HBO Max and its other streaming service, Discovery Plus. Executives intend to offer a bundle subscription  to consumers within the next few months, and the company’s long-term plan is to eventually merge the two services.

Those plans come as consumers are becoming more choosy about which streaming services they want and how much they’re willing to spend.

Netflix, which has long dominated the industry with its commercial-free streaming service, said this week it lost 200,000 more subscribers than it gained over its most-recent financial quarter.

In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said password sharing between paying and non-paying customers meant it was missing out on some revenue. Around 100 million Netflix viewers use someone else’s password to stream content, the company said, and Netflix intends to crack down on the practice.

On Thursday, AT&T revealed for the first time that Netflix’s password sharing problem wasn’t as prevalent with HBO Max because of internal mechanisms to curb the practice.

“In any given month, we’ve actively looked into how particular users are using the product, and we have technical features and capabilities to limit what I would call ‘rampant abuse,'” Stankey said during a conference call with investors and reporters.

Stankey didn’t provide specifics on how the company curbs password sharing, but he said the company’s practices are in line with HBO Max’s terms of service. Those terms forbid customers from revealing their account email and password “to anyone,” and HBO Max says it reserves the right to limit simultaneous streams at any given time.

Stankey said their enforcement of HBO Max’s terms were “thoughtful” and “customer-sensitive.”

“You don’t see anybody complaining massively about it,” he said.