Streaming Is a ‘3-Horse Race’ Among Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, WarnerMedia Boss Says

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“2021 has been a year that HBO Max broke through,” Jason Kilar says to trumpet company hitting 73.8 million global subscribers

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Jason Kilar (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Following Wednesday’s news that HBO and HBO Max had exceeded expectations with 73.8 million global subscribers at the end of 2021, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said that the streaming landscape is shaping up as a “three-horse race” between Netfix, Disney+ and HBO/HBO Max.

“Setting aside Amazon and Apple because of their diverse businesses… what we’ve seen — and I’ll just use the U.S. stats as an example — we’ve seen this very quickly become a three-horse race in terms of streaming,” Kilar told TheWrap on Wednesday. “And that is Netflix, that is WarnerMedia, and that is Disney.”

Netflix currently reports 209.19 million subscribers worldwide, while Disney+ has 118 million.

“Whether you are looking at absolute numbers of paid subscribers, or whether you are looking at revenues that the streaming services are generating, it’s very clear that there are three folks that are out in front of the pack,” Kilar said. “And then obviously there is a bit of a separation that has just happened in the last three quarters.”

The executive was doubtless referring to later-starting competitors like ViacomCBS’ Paramount+, which had 47 million subscribers by the end of September 2021, and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, which reported 54 million users by July 29, 2021 — but has not reported more recent subscriber numbers. (Disney’s Hulu logged 44 million subs after Q3.)

“So that’s why I feel very good about saying, 2021 has been a year that HBO Max broke through,” Kilar said. “And it took a lot of work and a lot of talent and a lot of partnerships. But it’s working.”

Kilar credited HBO Max’s 2021 growth to the decision to release all 17 Warner Bros. feature films simultaneously in theaters and on the streamer — a strategy that led to mixed box office results for the company. This year, the studio will release nine films exclusively in theaters — with a streaming debut to follow after a 45-day window. “And then we have a slate that’s from Warner Brothers that’s going to go to HBO Max on Day One around the world,” he added, noting that the company’s current hybrid approach will serve both the streaming and theatrical businesses.

One of Warner’s major 2021 tentpoles — the Robert Pattinson-led “The Batman” — is currently locked into a March 4 release date despite the current Omicron surge. “It’s too early to tell,” he said. “At this point we feel quite good about our March release of ‘The Batman’ in theaters worldwide.”

Despite his confidence in the three-horse race theory about the streaming wars, Kilar acknowledged the potential for a latecomer to surge. “If you just look at the last decade, TikTok didn’t exist,” he said. “Seven years ago or so, they came out of left field and they now account for a tremendous amount of hours of entertainment consumers around the world.”

He added that WarnerMedia is also focused on phenomena such as Snapchat and the popularity of gaming. “It’s very important to make sure that we all look at this through a very broad lens, which is how people choose to use their time in terms of entertainment. Streaming services are certainly very, very important. But there are other things that are out there competing for attention and time as well, which includes TikTok and social media.”

Not surprisingly, Kilar declined to offer any updates on WarnerMedia’s pending merger with Discovery, which is expected to close in mid-2022. He also declined to comment on how the merger might impact his own position in the new company under Discovery CEO David Zaslav. “We’re working through the regulatory process of the transaction, and the transaction is going according to expectations,” Kilar said.