HBO Max, live Wednesday in the United States after months of media hype, marks the arrival of another major league streaming service. He has a huge catalog of blockbuster movies and television blockbusters to watch – including superheroes. He tries to seduce you with exclusive originals at a big budget. And one of these shows wants to shoot your heart with an adorkable puppet.
, from AT&T WarnerMedia, is one of the latest entrants to the wars of streaming, a seven-month window when media giants and tech titans launch a series of new streaming services to take on Netflix. These competitive battles – pitting recruits like HBO Max, Disney Plus and NBCUniversal’s Peacock against heavyweights like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – have prompted huge companies to invest billions of dollars in hopes of shaping the future of the television.
The rivalries also affect you: they will influence the number of services that you will have to pay and the amount that you will have to pay to broadcast your favorite shows and movies, especially since this programming is locked by different players.
HBO Max arrived Wednesday after Disney Plus killed its entrance to the arena. Armed with a catalog of box office juggernaut movies and a surprise phenomenon in Baby Yoda from its big budget original, The Mandalorian, Disney Plus set the benchmark. A media analyst called it “one of the greatest product launches of all time.” Even the CEO of Netflix flipped his hat, calling the Disney Plus launch “gorgeous.”
“For more than 20 years observing different companies in place, like Blockbuster and Walmart and all these companies, I have never seen such a good performance by the incumbent operator learn the new way and master it,” said Reed Hastings last month. “My hat is closed to them. “
It’s a difficult act for HBO Max to follow. But the big differences between HBO Max and Disney Plus mean they have radically different challenges and strengths at launch.
Added to the level of difficulty is the launch of the service in the middle of a pandemic, which has already upset standards around the world.
An integrated clientele
In just over a day after its rollout on November 12, Disney Plus had more than 10 million registrations. In six months, its number of subscribers had increased to more than 50 million.
But unlike Disney Plus, HBO Max doesn’t start from scratch. Max enters the game with big statistics already on his side: for about 10 million current HBO subscribers who are billed directly by AT&T, WarnerMedia or HBO, HBO Max is available to them at no additional cost. And HBO Max offers millions of additional HBO subscribers to get the same free upgrade through agreements with pay TV providers and other platforms.
And each of them streaming with HBO Now, the company’s existing stand-alone service, will have their HBO Now app automatically switched to the HBO Max app via a software update on Wednesday morning.
With these factors combined, HBO Max could reach or beat the Disney Plus milestone by signing 10 million accounts from the start. This immediate influx of Max members will not change the net number of HBO customers, but they will represent millions of people trying the service and, potentially, starting to spread word of mouth.
For the context, Netflix – the market leader – has more than 182 million subscribers worldwide.
The increasing number of services raises the specter of subscription fatigue. The launch of HBO Max follows on from that of Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus, a limited version of NBC’s Peacock and Quibi. The vast majority of, according to a Nielsen study earlier this year. Each new service creates another competitor for one of these coveted spots. However, as streaming service options grow, people are showing no signs of declining: 93% say they will increase or maintain their existing streaming subscriptions.
The study, however, did not account for how people would feel after the American workforce lost nearly 40 million jobs in the past month.
Neither Disney nor HBO Max could boast an original level of Netflix-like programming at launch. HBO Max will have six original titles on the first day, including a comedy series called Love Life with Anna Kendrick and a play in the format of the late night talk show with Elmo, the 3-year-old red monster of Sesame Street. The first episode of theis already free to watch on YouTube to generate interest.
Disney Plus didn’t have many more originals at launch than HBO Max – it had about eight. But the main one was The Mandalorian, the highly anticipated Star Wars spin-off series. The Mandalorian has ticked a lot of boxes – it has a big budget production, with costs per episode in the same area as Game of Thrones. It was also the first time that the Star Wars universe was featured in a live series.
But his secret weapon was really a secret. The child, the pint-sized puppet known to the world as the Baby Yoda, was so tightly hidden that Disney decided to give up sales of toys and stuffed animals from the gold mine and protected the character of all marketing media and a commodity production pipeline. Everything to preserve the great revelation of Baby Yoda.
It worked. Baby Yoda has become a pop culture phenomenon, and.
It is still possible for HBO Max to trigger an original programming surprise that captures attention at launch. But based on early reviews of its originals, published in advance to critics, the HBO Max launch list as we know it today does not appear to have a culture bomb pending.
The first free episode of Elmo’s The Not-Too-Late Show has had 153,000 views since it was posted to YouTube five days ago. The Mandalorian trailer alone, however, had 7.5 million views on YouTube in the first five days after its release. The HBO Max Love Life trailer on YouTube reached about half that number – but it took more than a month.
Of course, Disney Plus has also benefited from a mind-blowing marketing machine. Almost every arm of the vast Disney device plugged in Disney Plus in the weeks leading up to its launch, going as far as putting promotional material in hotel rooms at Disney Resort.
HBO and WarnerMedia are not outdone in terms of marketing either. And HBO Max certainly has the advantage of popular franchises with built-in fandoms: DC, Game of Thrones and Friends, to name a few.
But HBO Max arrives when many typical promotional levers – first red carpet fancies, huge billboards, lively fan activations – have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and global blockages aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 , the respiratory disease the virus causes.
With people across the country stuck at entertaining at home without live sports, new blockbuster movies or any type of mass theater or concert gathering to entertain them, Coronavirus Lockout has integrated streaming services.
But these bottlenecks not only complicated how HBO Max generated interest in the service before it launched, but also disrupted the programming pipeline. The day people searched for the most HBO Max on Google was February 22. Why? That’s when HBO Max announced a special meeting for friends.
This special is pending for an indefinite period. It cannot be slaughtered when social distancing is still the rule.
Disney Plus, on the other hand, was Google’s most popular search term last year. And while interest in research in Disney Plus peaked (by a lot) on the day of its launch on November 12, the days leading up to the launch of Disney Plus returned a much higher interest in research than that of HBO Max before deployment.
The graph above shows the interest of American research for HBO Max in blue and Disney Plus in red, dating from four weeks before the launch of Disney Plus until Sunday, which was the last date that Google Trends provided this type of historical research data at the time of publication.
The huge red peak? It’s Disney Plus launch day, and that defines the brand of ocean going by which the rest of the research interest is measured here. This almost flat blue line glued down? This is the interest of HBO Max in comparison. It’s not the prettiest picture. To compare, three days before launch, HBO Max’s research interest is about half that of Disney Plus ‘at the same stage before its own launch, compared to this massive spike.
Still, the most crucial data on HBO Max’s search popularity can be found today, launch day. But before those details get in, you can get a sense of the relative interest of HBO Max compared to that of Disney Plus by comparing them to Netflix. As a dominant streaming service in the world for years, interest in research on Netflix is a criterion of popularity for competitors.
One day before launch, research interest in Disney Plus was at a distance from Netflix’s popularity, at 77% of Netflix’s total search demand. The day before HBO Max launched, however, its research interest at its peak was only 16% of Netflix.
And it’s math that even a 3-year-old red monster can understand.