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HBO Max's direct US subscribers rise to 12.1 million in 13 months

It's quadruple the number from a year earlier, counted not long after HBO Max launched.

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HBO Max launched in May 2020, an initially bumpy rollout. 

Angela Lang/CNET

HBO Max had 12.1 million direct accounts in the US at the halfway point of this year, HBO's parent company, AT&T, said Thursday in its latest quarterly report -- an increase of 2.4 million in the last three months and more than quadruple the number a year earlier, which was soon after HBO Max launched. 

In addition, another 31.5 million US subscribers can access HBO Max as part of their regular HBO subscription (whether or not they actually touch the streaming app). Together, that's 43.5 million potential HBO Max subscribers total in the US. 

It's tricky to describe exactly how many users HBO Max has. The 12.1 million direct accounts represent people who pay directly for the streaming service itself. But most people who have regular HBO can activate the app at no added cost as part of their subscription to the traditional networks -- that's the 31.5 million. 

But AT&T doesn't break out how many of these traditional HBO customers actually use HBO Max and how many don't bother with it at all. AT&T prefers to characterize these 31.5 million customers as HBO Max subscribers regardless of whether they're actively using the streaming service, arguing that these customers are technically already paying for HBO Max because Max is included with something they already shell out for. That's what the 43.5 million potential US Max subscribers -- people who subscribe directly to Max and people who may or may not use it as part of their regular HBO subscription -- is all about. 

Another complication is HBO Max's recent expansion into Latin America. For much of HBO Max's existence, it was available only in the US, which remains its biggest market. But in June, HBO Max widened to 39 territories across Latin America and the Caribbean. AT&T doesn't break out any HBO Max subscriber counts internationally. 

Those quirks make HBO Max's membership difficult to compare against streaming rivals like Netflix and Disney Plus, which can report their numbers of subscribers more simply. Netflix eclipsed 209.2 million subscribers at the midpoint of this year, and Disney Plus last reported its membership at 103.6 million subscribers as of April 3. 

Counting both HBO and HBO Max, the two combined have 47 million subscribers in the US, up 29% from a year earlier. Globally, the two have a combined 67.5 million members. 

But the latest figures show that interest in HBO Max has continued to widen.

After a bumpy rollout, HBO Max has been building buzz in the intervening year. One of the biggest boosts has been its decision to stream new, theatrically released movies at no extra charge at the same time they first hit theaters, starting with Wonder Woman 1984 in December and highly anticipated films like The Suicide SquadDune and The Matrix 4

HBO Max has also begun rolling out more of its originals, after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed production across Hollywood. High-profile originals like a Friends reunion special came out on Max during the latest quarter, and its monster movie blockbuster Godzilla vs. Kong was streaming during the period too. The company also rolled out an ad-supported, cheaper tier of HBO Max, making the service more accessible to people who balked at its $15-a-month premium price tag. The cheaper tier is $10 a month, includes advertising and doesn't let people stream the same-day theatrical movies like Godzilla vs. Kong. 

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 year-plus 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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