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What HBO Max’s Surprising First Year Performance Means for the Future of Streaming

Screenshot from HBO Max website home page

What HBO Max’s Surprising First Year Performance Means for the Future of Streaming

By Movieguide® Staff

HBO Max rocketed into the central conversation of streamers after a lackluster start in May of 2020.

The streaming platform’s final tallies reached 44.2 million as of March 31,. HBO Max was also aided by its controversial day-to-date release strategy and deal with Warner Bros.

Despite the industry’s speculation surrounding the deal, the box office successes of WONDER WOMAN 1984 and GODZILLA VS. KONG helped HBO Max gain subscribers and become comparable to other significant streamers like Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

Andy Forssell, WarnerMedia’s EVP & GM for Direct-to-Consumer in 2019, oversaw HBO Max and noted HBO Max’s success.

“The biggest call-out for us has been how strong retention has been,” Forssell told Deadline in an exclusive interview. “We had pretty aggressive projections and it’s been even stronger. We brought millions of people in for Wonder Woman… I expected a little bit of a drop off in January because you bring a lot of people in, you’re going to have some churn, it’s normal. I thought we’d start to bounce back in February and March. But January turned out to be a bigger month than December.”

“I like the interplay between film and TV. It’s really nice to see people go back and forth between those,” Forssell added regarding the streaming platform’s retention of subscribers.

Although 2020 challenged many companies, Forssell said that HBO Max used it as a time to improve.

“We’re exposing 85% to 90% of our entire catalog in any given week,” Forssell said. “We weren’t doing that last summer, so we’ve gotten a lot better at using purposely limited screen space. I think we’ve gotten much better at that matchmaking.”

For the future, Forsell revealed that they are adding an ad-supported tier for potential users who do not want to pay $15 a month.

“It’s not rocket science but it’s got to be really thought through, especially in terms of how we look and feel different than other providers,” Forssell said.

Forssell added that although he sees traditional live television coming to an end, sports is a different story.

“Sports is different. Sports is live because you don’t want spoilers, you want to find out what’s happening in real time. We will absolutely lean into sports,” Forssell said.

Although Forssell admits that HBO Max’s deal with Warner Bros. will not make every party happy, he is excited for the future of the box office and the movie-going experience.

“I do think it’s become a little clearer to objective observers now that we’re one of the main sources of movies in theaters right now. We’re never going to get that great thanks from theater owners because they’re too busy trying to run businesses in tough conditions, so we don’t expect that,” Forssell said. “Beyond Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong, we have high hopes for some of the upcoming titles. Both those did phenomenally well on HBO Max, so we’re in the middle of this crazy year, I think it was the right thing to do, and we have conviction about that.”

Forssell also briefly touched on what’s to come from the platform.

“Next year, we’re sort of back to experimentation,” Forssell said. “You’re going to see the whole industry do it. I think you’ll see windowing of movies all over the place. That’s hopefully a good thing because consumers are going to get to vote. They’re going decide and you’ll see us experimenting along with everybody else.”