Wall Street has fallen in love with video-streaming services. And the more subscribers a company says it is signing up, the more investors pile into its stock. There’s only one problem: for most services other than Netflix, a fair amount of fuzziness surrounds what constitutes a subscriber and even fuzzier math defines what a subscriber is worth.
Take AT&T’s WarnerMedia, whose CEO, Jason Kilar, met with analysts earlier this month and bragged that “at 41.5 million subscribers in the U.S., we are a leader in terms of the number of subscribers that we have attracted.” That number is more than Disney’s Disney+ has signed up and nearly two-thirds of Netflix’s U.S. total, so it sounds impressive. Unfortunately, the actual number of new customers paying for HBO Max is only 6.9 million. The rest are HBO cable subscribers, some of whom have signed up to watch HBO Max for no extra fee.