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Did HBO Max Get the Distribution Boost It Needs with Its New Amazon Deal?

Amazon Fire TV Stick
(Image credit: Amazon)

One down, one to go. 

Nearly six months after launching the rebranded and expanded version of its HBO streaming service, WarnerMedia today announced a crucial distribution deal with Amazon to finally support the HBO Max app on Amazon Fire TV and Fire Tablet devices. 

Make no mistake, it’s a big deal for HBO Max, which launched back on May 27 without support on the two biggest OTT device ecosystems. But it might not be an immediate game-changer for HBO Max's subscriber fortunes, either, since most U.S. HBO customers still get their HBO service through linear pay TV service agreements. 

Amazon last reported a global active user count for its Fire TV platform back in January, when it said that more than 40 million people worldwide were using the device platform to stream video. So there are a lot of legacy HBO streaming app users who will be signing up upgrading from the legacy "HBO" app to "HBO Max" in the coming days, with both offerings priced at $14.99 a month.

UPDATED on 11/20/2020: An earlier version of this story featured incorrect pricing for HBO Max. 

HBO Max still doesn’t have support for Roku, which touted 44 million active users worldwide as of the end of September, most of them in the U.S. WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar hinted last week that a deal with Roku might be close. 

And there is now at least a Roku work-around. With the release of Apple’s iOS 9.4 operating system software update for iPhones and iPads, users of these popular devices can cast the supported streaming of the HBO Max app on their mobile devices to their Roku-enabled TVs.

Together, Roku and Amazon Fire TV are used with more than 70% of the connected TVs in America, so these two recent developments are significant for WarnerMedia, which reported that only 8.6 million of the 38 million U.S. HBO subscribers had converted their subscription to the upgraded HBO Max service, essentially at no added cost, as of the end of September. 

With HBO Max costing the same $14.99 a month as legacy HBO, but delivering a far broader selection of content, that means that more than three-fourths of HBO customers—28.7 million of them—have not downloaded the upgrade and are settling for less content for the same money.

Notably, of those 28.7 million users eligible for Max upgrade but still not signed up to it, 25.1 million of them access HBO through wholesale agreements made with pay TV operators, most of them linear. 

A key question: How many of those customers will consume HBO through an OTT app instead of their MVPD service's linear program guide? Only 3,625 of HBO's  upgrade targets get the service through the legacy direct-to-consumer HBO streaming app. 

Meanwhile, for Amazon, the HBO Max deal closes an important gap, with the Fire TV platform now supporting every major streaming app save for Comcast NBCUniversal’s Peacock.