Can HBO Max Stand Out In Already Overcrowded Streaming Wars?

On May 27, HBO Max enters the fierce battle known as the streaming wars. AT&T has pledged $4 billion over the first three years in an attempt to make an impact in an already overcrowded space. An industry led by Netflix, Disney, and Amazon. Three companies far from vulnerable.

Streaming services are like podcasts — new, convenient, cool, fun, and oversaturated. There are more new options than people looking for additions. Both industries are so dominated at the top, new arrivals are at an incredible disadvantage regardless of what they offer.

Netflix is the default. The brand comes to mind in any sentence with the word “streaming” in it. Asking if a show is on Netflix is equitable to asking if you “Googled” something. I discussed the topic on FOX Sports Radio with Jason Martin earlier this month:

Even if the tech giant has peaked, there isn’t enough available market share for a new service to compete with the tech giant. Disney+ already created the alternative — family-friendly babysitter. Thus, even a company as massive as WarnerMedia isn’t in a position to make an instant splash with an OTT.

HBO Max is more appealing as a replacement for HBO and HBO Now than it is for its competitors. Subscribers won’t have an issue switching from HBO and Now to Max for additional content at the same price. But if subscribers are merely sending their $15 to another department at the same company, how much of a win for AT&T is that?

Streaming services sell subscribers on two things: legacy content and original content. The former isn’t in the same stratosphere as Disney+. The solid offering is highlighted by Friends. A great sitcom that has been on Netflix and is all over TBS daily.

HBO Max shouldn’t have an issue creating new quality content, where is long been king. The top five greatest shows ever might all be from HBO. The issue is, recently, its quality content hasn’t translated to widespread interest. The most-talked about, buzz-worthy shows and movies now, too, come from Netflix. Outside of the final season of Game of Thrones, Netflix has owned the conversation in recent years. To name just a few: Stranger Things, Bird Box, The Irishman, The Witcher, Ozark, and Murder Mystery.

Even if HBO’s shows have been better, and they have, it hasn’t been able to overcome Netflix’s built-in advantage of a reported near 183 million subscribers.

HBO’s current top offerings, which will all be available on Max, are mildly popular. Succession is critically acclaimed. Though, the second season drew only around 600k viewers. HBO’s best show Barry doesn’t have much of a following unless it comes on after Game of Thrones (those days are gone). Westworld is now its most popular but it hasn’t reached the mainstream level of fandom its predecessors did.

There will never be another Game of Thrones. A weekly show the country gathers together around to watch like a football game. This is yet another clear advantage for Netflix, which releases an entire season at once.

If HBO does have a project that can gain some of that mystique back, it’s the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel, House of Dragon. The story set 300 years before “Winter Is Coming” should debut to high viewership. It just better be good because the leash will be short after the reception of our last visit to Westeros.

Either way, HBO Max should prioritize à la carte subscribers. Streamers who bounce around services and land on whichever one has the best offering at the time. HBO Max will win some months over the competition among this group. À la carte subscribers are the only threat to seriously bother Netflix.

HBO’s brand doesn’t contain many duds. It’s long been the trendsetter in television. Now, the roles are reversed. Its latest addition has to play catch-up. As will other yet-to-launch services like NBC’s Peacock (July 15). Don’t count HBO out, but it’s entering battle at a bad time.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.