HBO not only gets first dibs on movies, it also offers blockbuster original hit shows like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, and Girls—and it’s still getting beat by Netflix in the U.S. when it comes to sheer subscriber count.
During its first quarter earnings call on Monday, Netflix said it had 29.17 million streaming subscribers in the U.S. as of March 31. That puts the online streaming service just barely ahead of HBO, which was estimated to have 28.7 million U.S. subscribers at the end of 2012, according to market research firm SNL Kagan.
SNL Kagan will release updated numbers on HBO’s subscriber base in the coming weeks, Variety reports. By then, the premium channel may have closed the gap with Netflix's lead of about 470 thousand subscribers. But even if HBO did catch up, comparably-sized subscription audiences makes the two services significant rivals, especially with Netflix working hard to beef up its stable of original programming.
What’s more impressive is that Netflix was able to catch-up to HBO with an arguably lesser catalog. Taking a quick glance at popular offerings on Netflix, you can get some fairly good television shows, including Mad Men seasons 1-5, The Walking Dead seasons 1 and 2, Breaking Bad seasons 1-4, and the Netflix original series House of Cards. Netflix also offers some fairly big-name movies, including as Thor, Captain America, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Most of its library leans towards indie and backlog titles, however.
HBO, meanwhile, skews towards fresh, fairly new content, including the wildly popular (and aforementioned) Game of Thrones and movies such as The Campaign, Prometheus, and Ice Age: Continental Drift.
How did Netflix do it?
How is Netflix able to rival HBO's U.S. subscriber base despite HBO's top-notch programming arsenal? Pricing certainly helps. You can subscribe to Netflix for just $8 per month; HBO and its online streaming component HBO Go cost around $15 a month, and that's on top of a monthly cable subscription.
Another significant factor is Netflix is simply more convenient than HBO. You can watch everything Netflix has to offer at any time. Every episode of Netflix’s original programming is available from day one without waiting on a weekly release schedule. You can also watch Netflix on almost any platform, including smart TVs, set-top boxes, PCs, all the major gaming consoles, tablets (Android, iPad, and Windows RT), and smartphones (Android, iOS, and Windows Phone).
HBO Go, on the other hand, is also widely available, but limited to people who actively subscribe to the cable service. Anyone can sign up for Netflix.
Soon, Netflix is going to venture into the one area where HBO Go is actually more convenient. In the coming weeks, Netflix plans to release a family streaming plan for $12 per month that lets you simultaneously stream up to four different shows on four different devices, all using the same account. Currently, you can only stream two different shows at the same time with the company’s $8 per month plan. HBO Go already offers something similar, allowing up to three simultaneous streams per household account.