HBO Max Hits 28.7 Million Subscribers, But Not All Of Them Are Watching

HBO Max has passed a milestone for AT&T's WarnerMedia, which revealed that it has hit 38 million combined HBO and HBO Max customers — ahead of the company's target of 37 million by the end of 2020. The WarnerMedia streaming platform added 8.6 million customers in the third quarter, bringing its total number of new "subscribers" to 28.7 million. But not all of those subscribers are watching HBO Max just yet.

In an earnings report on Thursday (via The Verge), WarnerMedia revealed that 8.6 million customers have activated their HBO Max subscriptions in the third quarter, bringing the total number of new HBO Max subscribers to 28.7 million. The total of HBO and HBO Max customers has hit 38 million, with 57 million globally, surpassing the company's goal for the end of 2020. Ultimately, AT&T aims for HBO Max to have 50 million U.S. subscribers by 2025.

But these impressive numbers come with a provision: AT&T counts "activations" as well as subscribers.

What are "activations," you ask? They are customers who already pay for HBO and have access to HBO Max as part of their package, who finally activate that subscription. According to the earnings report, 28.7 million customers were eligible to get HBO Max at the end of the third quarter, but only 12.7 million have activated their HBO Max access, meaning only half of existing HBO subscribers who can get HBO Max for free haven't actually watched anything on HBO Max yet, or may not even be aware that it's available to them. Other factors are likely in play: HBO Max still isn't available on major platforms like Roku or Amazon Fire TV (two of the most popular streaming devices), all telecom services haven't made HBO Max available to their customers yet, and the lack of advertising for HBO Max to current HBO subscribers. All of these likely hinder HBO Max's subscriber growth.

Five months after its launch, HBO Max is still trailing its competitors in subscription numbers. Disney+ has about 60 million subscribers, while Netflix has nearly 195.2 million subscribers. HBO Max is still the priciest streaming service, but its plans to launch a cheaper ad-supported tier next year may help draw new subscribers in.

However, in terms of new streaming platforms, HBO Max is doing pretty well, considering one of its competitors recently bit the dust (RIP Quibi). Having recently activated my own account, I find that HBO Max probably has the best collection of library titles, thanks to its Warner Bros., Criterion, and HBO archives. It's frustrating the rollout for HBO Max has been so janky, but hopefully it's just growing pains for a promising streaming platform.