August 18, 2020
Speaking recently on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said he is “not at all concerned” with the slow start for subscription streaming service HBO Max, saying the platform was in a “really good position” based on previous estimates.
“If you look at last year at what we hoped we would be at the end of 2020, which is 36 million HBO and HBO Max subscribers, we announced just recently we are already north of 36 million, and obviously the number is going up every day,” Kilar said.
Kilar was hired May 1 to aggressively guide the former Time Warner company into the digital age — underscored by the May 27 launch of HBO Max. Since an initial observation period, Kilar has implemented massive corporate downsizing resulting in the elimination of about 600 positions across Warner Bros., Turner (except CNN) and HBO.
The former Hulu founder brought in fellow Hulu alum Andy Forssell as GM, spearheading marketing, consumer engagement and worldwide rollout of Max in a crowded SVOD market dominated by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video — and Disney-owned Hulu.
Despite HBO’s brand recognition, subscriber/consumer adoption of Max has been slow. The service has attracted about 4.1 million subs through parent AT&T’s most-recent fiscal period, despite HBO having more than 35 million existing pay-TV subs. Undermining conversion efforts are ongoing negotiation challenges between WarnerMedia, Roku and Amazon Fire TV — the latter two key to third-party OTT video consumer adoption.
Consumer adoption of Max pales in comparison to Disney+, which attracted 10 million sign-ups in its first 24 hours last November, and now has more than 60 million subscribers. In addition, NBCUniversal’s upstart Peacock service has generated more than 10 million subs. NBCUniversal owns CNBC.
Kilar argued that when comparing “apples to apples,” Peacock subscriber conversion of linear-TV subscribers isn’t demonstrably better than Max. He said Disney+, on the other hand, has the advantage of leveraging a 100-year-old family brand known globally.
“[Disney] did exactly what they should have done and kudos to them,” Kilar said. “Ours is a very different journey. I would argue ours is a bigger outcome because we are going after all members of the family. The opportunity is bigger, but it does mean the journey is going to be different because we don’t have a 100-year-old surgically-precise brand around families, specifically with kids under the age of 9.”
Kilar was asked if the HBO brand has become confusing to consumers due to the myriad access points, including HBO, HBO Go, HBO Now and Max. He agreed, saying both HBO Go and HBO Now are being “sunsetted,” with the end result continuing to drive users to HBO and the brand’s quality of programming.
“We want people to think of our stories as being a cut above,” Kilar said.