HBO Max still isn’t supersized enough to attract cord-cutters

When HBO Max launched in late May, I was excited despite all the branding confusion around the service.

Whereas HBO focused on a small number of highbrow shows and movies, HBO Max offers many more movies and shows from WarnerMedia and beyond. It has the potential to be a true rival to Netflix, with a broad catalog that’s worth keeping year-round instead of just whenever the best HBO shows arrive.

Now that HBO Max is here, I can see the reality: HBO Max is a better value HBO than used to be, but its catalog still dwarves those of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. That probably won’t change anytime soon, as parent company AT&T continues to spread its content catalog across multiple streaming services instead of investing in just one. AT&T has claimed to be ”all in” on HBO Max, but as with so many of the company’s other streaming video endeavors, this one seems like another half measure.

Comparing the catalogs

Last week, the streaming guide service Reelgood provided a useful analysis of several top streaming services, including HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Apple TV+. The company counted up the total number of movies and TV shows in each service, then determined how many were “Quality” (defined by IMDb ratings of at least 6.0 for movies and 6.5 for TV shows with at least 300 votes) and how many were “High Quality” (with IMDb scores of at least 7.5 for movies and 8.0 for TV shows).

Reelgood’s analysis shows that HBO Max’s TV show selection is 20- to 25-percent smaller than those of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, with less than half the selection of quality and high-quality shows. Its movie catalog is also about half the size of Netflix’s, and it has about 13 percent of the movies that Amazon Prime does.

reelgoodshows Reelgood
reelgoodmovies Reelgood

I wanted to take this data a step further, though, so I created some new charts comparing Reelgood’s analysis with a similar one it conducted in 2018. That way, we can see how quality and quantity have changed over time, and get a sense of just how much extra value HBO Max is adding.

It turns out that HBO Max’s content infusion barely makes up for the normal growth in content that Netflix and Prime go through every year. While the HBO Max catalog is roughly double what HBO alone offered two years ago, Netflix and Amazon Prime have made even bigger leaps over the same period.

streamingshowsreelgood Jared Newman / IDG
streamingmoviesreelgood Jared Newman / IDG

Netflix, for instance, has added 551 quality or high-quality shows since 2018. Those new arrivals alone are larger than the entire HBO Max TV show catalog. And while conventional wisdom holds that Netflix’s movie catalog is shrinking in favor of original TV shows, it’s held fairly steady since 2018, while the selection has shifted toward higher-quality films.

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