HBO Max fails to make good use of House of the Dragon's soaring popularity

A promotional image for House of the Dragon, with Alicent Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen standing in front of a dragon's eye
House of the Dragon didn't really help HBO Max to acquire new subscribers. (Image credit: HBO)

It seems that you need more than dragons to entice audiences to your streaming service. Well, HBO Max does, anyway.

During its Q3 2022 earnings report, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) revealed that streaming subscriptions were on the rise across all three of its home entertainment platforms. For those unaware, that trio comprises HBO Max, HBO, and Discovery Plus, with the triumvirate's global subscriber base totalling 94.9 million paying customers.

Contextually, that sounds like good news for WBD. The entertainment behemoth, which was only recently formed following a merger between the two companies, added 2.8 million subscribers across its three streamers between July and September 2022 – a small but seemingly significant increase that pushes it closer to the landmark total of 100 million. By comparison, Netflix only added 2.41 million news subscribers in the same period.

However, while WBD can boast about the new subscribers it's gained in the past three months, these figures don't paint the full picture.

For one, WBD declined to provide a full breakdown of how many subscribers each streaming platform has. The last official figures provided by Warner Bros. came in April 2022 – Warner was a standalone company at the time – which revealed HBO Max had a subscriber base of 76.8 million (per Cord Cutters). In February 2022, Discovery confirmed that Discovery Plus had amassed 22 million paying customers as of Q4 2021 (per Variety). Add those two figures together – making 98.8 million – and it seems like WBD has actually lost subscribers between January and November 2022.

Brian Cox's Logan Roy sits at a table staring out of a window in Succession season 3

HBO Max is home to top tier shows including Succession. (Image credit: HBO)

So, what gives? It's likely that, with the merger between Warner Bros. and Discovery, customers paying for HBO Max and Discovery Plus have simply had their accounts lumped together in WBD's overall subscriber total. Without a full breakdown on each platform's fanbase, though, we can only guess that this is the primary reason behind this actual slight downturn.

Regardless of the murky nature of WBD's total subscriber base, the fact that the megacorporation hasn't surpassed 100 million subscribers yet is sure to be a grave disappointment.

That's particularly true of HBO and HBO Max. House of the Dragon, the highly anticipated Game of Thrones prequel series that launched on August 21, has been one of the biggest TV hits of the year. Per WBD's earnings report, House of the Dragon was the largest series premiere in HBO history, with the R-rated, high fantasy drama drawing in almost 10 million viewers on opening night alone. The HBO Max show was also the largest series launch on the streaming service in the US, and across Latin America and EMEA regions, with all episodes averaging 29 million viewers in the weeks that followed.

Despite House of the Dragon's soaring popularity, though, it's failed to ignite WBD's subscriber push for HBO and HBO Max. The series might have some of the highest viewing figures of 2022, but WBD has only turned 10% of that audience (2.8 million new users from 29 million House of the Dragon viewers) into paying customers. And that's new subscribers across HBO, HBO Max, and Discovery Plus. Not exactly convincing, is it?

A promotional image of someone watching Netflix on their TV, with a remote in their left hand

HBO Max still lags ways behind Netflix in the race for new subscirbers. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Even with a colossally popular show, WBD's streaming services still can't hold a candle to its rivals when it comes to having a sizeable fanbase. Despite the troubles it's endured throughout 2022, Netflix's 223 million-strong subscriber base ensures it's still the king of the streaming landscape. 

Disney Plus is catching Netflix, though, with the home of Marvel and Star Wars posting figures of 152.1 million subscribers (per Variety) in August. Across all of its streaming platforms, including ESPN Plus and Hulu, Disney's total subscriber base stands at 221.1 million – further proof of how far WBD has to go to match its competitors.

Clearly, HBO Max and its cousins have a long way to go to catch Netflix and Disney Plus in the increasingly fraught subscriber race. Fan favorite shows, including Succession, House of the Dragon, and Euphoria, will continue to help it grow. And, thanks to its top tier back catalog of shows and HBO Max movies, WBD should feel confident of making inroads in the fight to reach as many viewers as possible. They are but two reasons why we think HBO Max is the best streaming service of 2022.

But it's not all good news for HBO Max and company. HBO Max and Discovery Plus won't exist in their current forms for much longer, with WBD planning to consolidate the streaming platforms into one giant service in Q1 or Q2 2023. A price hike is also being planned, while the merged HBO Max-Discovery Plus platform could see the number of ads doubled on its ad-based subscription tier.

"Dreams didn't make us kings, dragons did", Prince Daemon tells Queen Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon's season 1 finale. That might be true in Westeros, but it isn't in the real world – and Warner Bros. Discovery should be well aware of that as it tries to assert its dominance on the streaming industry.

For more WBD-based content, read up on the five big questions House of the Dragon season 2 needs to tackle. Alternatively, learn how much an HBO Max subscription costs right now, check out everything worth knowing about HBO's The Last of US TV adaptation, or find out how to watch the DC movies in order.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across. Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.