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WBD CFO says Max launch going well, has ‘more confidence’ in subscriber growth

The chief financial officer of Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) says the launch of its new cornerstone streaming service Max is going well, and the company is “very pleased” with how things have progressed so far.

The streaming service officially launched on Tuesday, replacing WBD’s former flagship product, HBO Max. While HBO may no longer be cited by name, HBO shows and licensed movies are still front and center on Max — except, now, HBO shares real estate with content from WBD’s lifestyle streamer, Discovery Plus.

“It’s day one, but so far so good,” WBD CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said during an appearance at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications conference on Wednesday. “We’re very, very pleased with how it has gone.”

Max offers content from HBO, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, HGTV and other WBD brands, starting at $10 a month (with ads, a commercial free version starts at $16 a month). The service is available on the same platforms as HBO Max — Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV (Google TV) and most newer-models smart TVs, cable boxes and game consoles, as well as phones and tablets.

Max offers a little something for everyone — from blockbuster films to lifestyle shows, kid-friendly cartoons and cinematic-style documentaries. By offering one streaming service to satiate the tastes of many, Wiedenfels believes WBD is well positioned to capitalize on the trend of consumers moving away from expensive cable and satellite toward cheaper online-only offerings — not just in the United States, but around the world.

“I have a lot more confidence in our ability to profitably grow subscribers than maybe 12 months ago,” Wiedenfels said on Wednesday. “I have a lot more confidence in our ability to continue driving down churn. We’ve seen engagement come up, we’ve seen churn come down — it’s small things — but we’re consistently and continuously chipping away at some of the key metrics.”

Earlier this month, WBD said it had 97.6 million global streaming subscribers who are paying for HBO Max, Discovery Plus or another streaming service owned by the brand. The company has not broken out specific figures for each of the streaming services it operates; while Discovery Plus content is now integrated into Max, Discovery Plus continues to operate as a separate service.

This month was a significant milestone for WBD’s streaming ambitions: The company reported a $50 million profit on more than $2.4 billion in operating revenue, marking the first time the company’s streaming products brought in more money than it spent.

HBO Max was not a smash hit when it launched: The service wasn’t instantly available to Roku and Amazon Fire TV users because WBD’s predecessor, AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, refused to make agreements with the companies behind those platforms early on. The situation was eventually resolved within a few months, but it streamers who use the two most-popular platforms in the United States unable to watch HBO Max content unless they bought a different streaming device or employed clever workarounds.

The streaming service was also plagued with technical glitches that frustrated streamers to no end, including choppy video streams, endless buffering and random crashes. Eventually, those problems were fixed as well, but it left some streamers waiting a while before updated apps could be deployed across some platforms.

Wiedenfels said the company learned its lessons from HBO Max and did not repeat the same mistakes when it decided to launch Max. The new service has a better user experience overall, and streamers should find themselves satisfied with the service, he said.

“The really powerful impact of this combined content portfolio and a much, much better user experience in the sense of a technical functionality and reliability is only going to start kicking in now,” Wiedenfels affirmed.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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