HBO has fewer subscribers than Netflix, and it doesn't care if the whole world knows it.
Time Warner, the parent company of the premium cable channel, broke out financial details of HBO in its quarterly earnings Wednesday morning for the first time. In the release and during a call to discuss the results, the company disclosed that HBO had roughly 29 million US members at the end of the year, which is less than Netflix's 33.4 million.
Outside estimates have indicated that Netflix eclipsed HBO months ago, but HBO hadn't shared such stats in public since that time. Netflix's member growth has climbed sharply as it ramped up as an "Internet television network" with streaming video and original programming, after it recovered from a pricing backlash in 2011.
Though Netflix may be bigger than HBO in the US, combining Time Warner's HBO and Cinemax member rolls together comes to 43 million subscribers in the US, higher than the online competitor. And the company's international presence dwarfs that of Netflix: Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes pegged it at about 85 million overseas Wednesday. Netflix has almost 11 million members abroad.
HBO also confirmed that it indeed makes more money than Netflix despite the smaller ranks. HBO generated $4.89 billion in revenue last year to Netflix's $4.37 billion, and profit was much higher: $1.79 billion in operating income versus Netflix's $228.3 million in 2013.
Netflix has often put HBO squarely in the center of its competitive bull's-eye, with its top content executive once stating the company's goal was to become HBO faster than HBO can become Netflix.
Despite Netflix's intensely competitive attitude toward HBO, Bewkes reiterated that the growth of online television options is complementing businesses like HBO. "I think Netflix viewing for one is higher in HBO homes, HBO viewing is higher in Netflix homes," he said.
The results follow Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings' joking disclosure of the log-in credentials for HBO CEO Richard Plepler, during his company's own earnings discussion. Hastings cast it as his response to Plepler's recent comments that HBO doesn't mind if its subscribers share passwords.