Indiewire is reporting that HBO Max could offer an ad-supported version of HBO Max in quarter 2 of 2021 at a cheaper price than the current $14.99 ad-free service that it debuted over the summer. The plans were announced by
John Stankey this morning during the company’s Q4 2020 earnings report without providing any other relevant information on the plans including price, a launch date, or how ads will play into the content. Viewers will likely wonder if their favorite movies will all of a sudden be interrupted with commercials. While the idea of ads on anything branded with HBO may seem strange for people used to a premium experience on HBO it can not be ignored that Hulu’s ad-supported tier is far more popular than its ad-free one.
HBO of course is hardly limited to its streaming service. The company has 17.2 million active HBO Max accounts but over 41.5 million actual HBO subscribers. The difference between the two numbers should be understood this way. Everybody who is subscribed to HBO via a TV provider has access to HBO Max automatically. HBO Max also has a standalone subscription option. So the 17.5 million number is a combination of standalone HBO Max subscribers and people who have HBO’s traditional HBO channel on their cable provider who have chosen to sign in and activate the separate app. Numbers for HBO Max are likely severely depressed because most cable systems offer HBO content via built-in on-demand options negating the need for HBO Max unless a subscriber specifically wants to check out an HBO Max exclusive. It is believed one such exclusive, the one-month long availability of Wonder Woman 1984 drove activations and subscriptions alike during December.
The new version of the service will add an interesting dynamic to the streaming world regardless. If it proves successful it could be expected to be imitated. A recent survey of streamers by Tivo showed that fans would be interested in ad-supported versions of Netflix and Amazon Prime. Over the past year the idea of subscription fatigue, which says people are running out of money and time for all of these emerging streaming choices. A sizable number of people who use streaming as a primary source of entertainment did so in the first place to avoid high cable bills and fear that they will find themselves with $200.00 worth of streaming bills before they know it. The fastest-growing market in streaming right now is free ad-supported content.