HBO, including the HBO Max streaming service, now reaches 73.8 million global subscribers as of the end of 2021, according to news shared by parent company AT&T today ahead of the company's fourth-quarter earnings planned for later this month. The figure tops the company's forecast for its year-end total, which it had earlier said would be in the range of 70 million to 73 million.
It also represents a 4.4 million gain in subscribers in Q4, up from the 69.4 million reported in the prior quarter -- the latter of which had then represented a 12.5 million year-over-year increase. While the service was growing, HBO's U.S. subscribers had dropped in the third quarter -- but the loss had been offset by international subscriber additions. One of the contributing factors to that domestic decline had been the company's decision to remove HBO Max from Amazon's Prime Channels in the quarter, leading to a 1.8 million drop in U.S. subscribers (from 47 million in Q2 down to 45.2 million in Q3).
At the time, AT&T's WarnerMedia said its average revenue per domestic subscriber stood at $11.82. The company also said it expected to recoup some of the domestic subscriber losses in the months to come, as Amazon Prime Channels customers returned to HBO through direct subscriptions.
Earlier this week, HBO touted how well its final quarter of 2021 had been going. The holiday season often sends a boost of activity to entertainment services as people take time off from work to relax at home with family and watch TV. That seemed to be true for HBO Max as well, as the streamer noted that December had been its most-viewed month since the service's launch in May 2020.
Contributing to this jump was the buzzy launch of the "Sex and the City" reboot called "And Just Like That…" which became HBO Max's No. 1 series in the U.S., EU and Latin America. The streamer also benefitted from the season three finale of the critically acclaimed "Succession," which saw total viewing up 47% over the season 2 finale, as well as finales for "Insecure" (a series finale) and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The new film "The Matrix Resurrections" also helped close out the year as one of the top four films released on the service, as HBO Max embraced same-day movie releases. "King Richard" was another same-day release in the quarter.
The interest in these shows and movies helped pull in viewers who then spent more time watching other HBO Max original content, driving up overall viewing trends. Some subscribers also signed up in anticipation of the New Year's release of the "Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts" reunion special.
It's worth noting that the year-end HBO numbers exclude free trials. But the domestic figures do include U.S. accounts "with access to" HBO and HBO Max, which muddies the waters. This means the company is counting among its subscriber base those who could be watching HBO but have not yet signed in to do so.
AT&T CEO John Stankey announced the new subscriber numbers at a Citi investor conference earlier today, where the company also detailed other areas of its business, including its postpaid phone and fiber subscribers that ended the year at 3.2 million net adds (its best figure in a decade-plus), and 1.0 million net adds, respectively.
The exec also expressed optimism that the planned WarnerMedia-Discovery merger, expected to close mid-2022, would meet regulatory approval. When Discovery's portfolio is integrated into the HBO Max catalog, the company believes it will see further gains, he said.