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AT&T’s Stankey: Success of HBO Max Launch ‘Lost in the Context’ of Netflix

John Stankey.
John Stankey (Image credit: AT&T)

Saying that he “couldn’t be more pleased” with the launch of HBO Max, AT&T CEO John Stankey told investors today that the success of Netflix, a global juggernaut of more than 190 million streaming subscribers built over the last decade, has created too high a bar for his company’s new streaming service. 

“I know it sometimes gets lost within the context of, there’s a company called Netflix that’s done a remarkable job of building a franchise over many years,” Stankey said, speaking Tuesday at the virtualized Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference. “You sometimes get laid up against what they’ve done over the course of a decade. … I understand that standard is a high standard and it’s one that we aspire to get to. But we’re not going to get there overnight. Nor are we trying to build the exact same product that Netflix has.”

HBO Max launched on May 27, amid plenty of brand confusion—consumers had trouble understanding the difference between the new service and legacy monikers like “HBO Now, “HBO Go” and plain ol’ “HBO.”

There have also been key distribution issues, notably the lack of app support on Roku and Amazon Fire TV connected TV device platforms. 

During AT&T’s second quarter earnings report, the company conceded that only 4.1 million users had signed up for the $14.99-a-month HBO Max service, even though it’s priced identically to the legacy HBO Now platform and delivers more content. 

Stankey, however, described HBO Max’s challenges as being far different from not only Netflix, but Disney Plus, which amassed more than 60 million paid subscribers.

Notably, HBO Max had to solve the problem of stagnant growth for the legacy HBO brand, which was stuck at around 43 million domestic subscribers, the number it finished 2019 with. 

“HBO had been stagnated at a customer count,” Stankey said. “The only time it went up a little bit was when a new season of Game of Thrones would come out and then it would kind of work back down the back side."

He added, “We’re not doing this for a year. We’re doing this to build a platform that can sustain for the next decade.”