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HBO Max accounts jump to 17.2 million after Wonder Woman 1984's debut

HBO Max's total activations doubled in the midst of the service releasing megabudget movie WW84 to stream the same day it hit theaters.

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HBO Max launched in late May, an initially bumpy rollout. 

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HBO Max hit 17.2 million accounts at the end of last year, HBO parent company AT&T said Wednesday in its latest quarterly report. Boosted by interest in Wonder Woman 1984, which started streaming on Max on Dec. 25, the same day it debuted in theaters, HBO Max doubled its number of total activations at the end of 2020 compared with three months earlier. 

The latest figures show interest in HBO Max has continued to widen since its launch in May. In October, AT&T had noted HBO Max had 8.6 million signups through September. 

It's tricky to describe exactly how many active users HBO Max has. These activation numbers include people who pay directly for the service and people who activate the app at no added cost as part of a subscription to regular HBO. And activations also count people who signed up for limited-time free trials and then didn't stick around as actual subscribers. 

HBO Max's membership is also hard to compare against streaming rivals like Netflix and Disney Plus, which can report their numbers of paying subscribers more cleanly. But HBO Max has 37.7 million people who are eligible to activate and use Max at no added cost as part of a regular HBO subscription: All they have to do is download the app and sign up. AT&T would like to characterize these 37.7 million as HBO Max subscribers, arguing that these customers are technically already paying for HBO Max because Max is included free with other services they already pay for. 

But so far, AT&T's numbers on HBO Max suggest that less than half of those people have actually gone through with any activity on Max. Still, that fraction has expanded significantly since Max's launch in May, suggesting it is commanding people's attention with bold moves like the release of Warner Bros.' WW84 on Max. 

And Max has more new movies on the way. In an unprecedented move, Warner Bros. committed last year to releasing its entire 2021 film slate in the same manner as WW84, letting Max subscribers stream the movies for a month at the same time they're first available in theaters. The next film queued up is psychological thriller The Little Things starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto, arriving Friday. Later this year will bring high-profile titles like Dune and The Matrix 4. 

On Wednesday, AT&T added that it expects to start expanding HBO Max to international markets this year. The company reiterated that it hopes to launch a cheaper, ad-supported version of Max before the height of summer. 

HBO Max, the streaming service from AT&T's WarnerMedia, launched in late May as another splashy new service in the so-called streaming wars, a seven-month period when media and technology giants rolled out their takes on streaming TV. Just like Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and NBCUniversal's Peacock, HBO Max hopes its particular mix of shows, movies and originals will hook you on its vision for TV's future. These emerging rivalries may seem like big-budget corporate flexing, but they affect how many services you must use -- and pay for -- to watch your favorite shows and movies online. 

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