HBO Max and HBO Hit 73.8 million Subscribers, Topping Company Forecast

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    The streaming service HBO Max and the cable channel HBO ended 2021 with a combined 73.8 million global subscribers, beating year-end projections of 73 million, the platforms’ parent company, AT&T, said on Wednesday.

    The streaming service also expanded into 46 countries in the past year.

    The announcement represents a vindication of the strategy of Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, the entertainment conglomerate that oversees HBO Max and HBO. In December 2020, Mr. Kilar announced that all 17 films on the Warner Bros. 2021 slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on the nascent streaming service.

    “It worked, and it worked well,” Mr. Kilar said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We’d make the same decision again, if we had a chance to go back and do it again.”

    The growth was also fueled by several popular shows, including “The Sex Lives of College Girls” and “Succession.”

    The streaming world is fiercely competitive, and HBO Max still has significantly fewer subscribers than Disney+, which had 118.1 million in November, and Netflix, which has 222 million. (Disney+ premiered in November 2019; HBO Max didn’t make its debut until May 2020.)

    Mr. Kilar’s move angered Hollywood enough for top agents and filmmakers to call out the studio for its seemingly rash decision.

    “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Christopher Nolan, the director of the WarnerMedia film “Tenet,” said in a statement at the time.

    Yet the uncertainty of box office returns in the pandemic, coupled with WarnerMedia’s need to expand its new streaming service, appears to have affirmed Mr. Kilar’s decision.

    None of the studio’s 2021 films landed in the top 10 of year-end box office receipts, but two — “Godzilla vs. Kong” with $99 million and “Dune” with $93 million — were close.

    The final Warner Bros. movie with a simultaneous release, “The Matrix Resurrections,” the fourth title in the successful “Matrix” franchise, opened on Dec. 22 and has earned only $31 million, a stark contrast to “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which has grossed $621 million for Sony Pictures since its debut on Dec. 17.

    Still, Mr. Kilar, who is expected to leave the company once it completes its merger with Discovery, doesn’t believe he left money on the table.

    “At the end of the day, from an economic perspective, the revenues that are generated in response to that investment is ultimately what matters, not where those dollars come from,” he said.

    For 2022, Warner Bros. will return to the traditional model of theatrical releases, giving all of its films a 45-day exclusive window in theaters before they move to HBO Max.

    “We think the right thing to do is to split our slate, where we have a number of movies from Warner Bros. that are going to go directly to HBO Max on Day 1 and then we have a number of titles that are going to go to theaters, and then 45 days later they’re going to show up on HBO Max,” Mr. Kilar said. “That’s never been done before. So we feel really good about our strategy.”

    AT&T will report its fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 26.

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