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HBO Max gains traction after ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere, as DirecTV faces big losses

Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman swings a golden lasso
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Wonder Woman 1984.”
(Clay Enos / Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

AT&T’s HBO Max saw a boost in subscribers last quarter after reaching a key distribution deal with Roku Inc. and carrying the premiere of “Wonder Woman 1984.”

About 17.2 million people had activated HBO Max accounts at the end of the fourth quarter, AT&T said Wednesday. That’s up from 8.6 million at the end of the third quarter and 4.1 million after its first month.

As it touted the improved subscriber numbers for HBO Max, however, AT&T also disclosed that it took at $15.5-billion charge due to losses at its DirecTV satellite business, which has been hit hard by cord-cutting.

The charge led to a loss of $13.89 billion, or $1.95 a share, in the fourth quarter, versus a profit of $2.39 billion, or 33 cents a share, during the period in 2019. Revenue dipped 2.4% to $45.7 billion.

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Warner Bros. is making its entire 2021 slate of movies available for streaming on HBO Max as soon as they hit theaters. Critics say the studio is being “dismantled.”

In early December, AT&T Chief Executive John Stankey said that about 12.6 million subscribers had activated HBO Max accounts.

But that was before HBO Max and Roku resolved a dispute that had prevented the app from being on Roku devices. The end of the standoff allowed HBO Max to potentially reach millions of new subscribers.

AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which operates HBO Max, plans to premiere several more films from its Warner Bros. studio on HBO Max this year because many theaters remain shut during the pandemic. That could help HBO Max as it tries to accelerate its subscriber growth in a crowded streaming market.

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AT&T has set a goal of hitting 50 million U.S. subscribers by 2025 and a total of between 75 million and 90 million subscribers globally by that year. HBO Max plans to expand outside the U.S. and offer a lower-cost version with advertising later this year.

Despite gains in its wireless business, revenue in the company’s WarnerMedia division dropped about 10% to $8.5 billion in the quarter, reflecting box office declines caused by the pandemic and reduced revenue for cable networks such as TBS and TNT.

Last year, WarnerMedia shook Hollywood by deciding to put all of Warner Bros.’ 2021 films on HBO Max on the same day they hit theaters.
The Patty Jenkins superhero sequel “Wonder Woman 1984" debuted simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters on Christmas Day.

Times staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.


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