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Liberty Media Chair John Malone Is Wary of HBO Max’s Potential Success

Fern Siegel

Chairman of Liberty Media John Malone made his billions in cable, but weighed in on the viability of new streaming platforms in a CNBC interview. He shared his reservations about WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, slated for a May debut. (CEO John Stankey says the streamer is being positioned as a content bundler.)

However, Malone doesn’t believe the upcoming streamer has growth potential. “I really have trouble seeing HBO being able to get the scale to be able to be at the top of the chart in terms of direct consumer subscribers,” he told CNBC.

At launch, HBO Max will be a $15/month subscription service, but included in AT&T’s video-mobile-broadband bundles for free. HBO Now subscribers will also get the service for free. By 2021, an ad-supported tier is expected.

In reporting his remarks, Deadline noted Malone questioned the streamer’s budget limitations and content rights.

“They certainly don’t have the budget to defend and protect their content supply long-term, and they don’t own the rights to international distribution,” he said. “It will take them years to develop and hold onto enough content to be a real player internationally.”

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei, who spoke at the company’s investor-day event yesterday, echoed his thoughts. Maffei said the costly streaming wars would wreak havoc on the pay TV world.

“OTT will drain linear TV first, but OTT players will drain each other in a circular fire squad, in our judgment,” Maffei told analysts. He believes the abundance of original content in the scripted video arena mean competing platforms are chasing “illusory global growth.”

However, Malone had more positive things to say about AppleTV+, which launched Nov. 1. Despite its finite inventory, its price point — $5/month — is a bonus, he notes. “When you start with 460 consumer relationships, and you give them something for free, that’s a very interesting way to get large numbers fast.”

Malone, the former CEO of TCI, is also the largest individual shareholder in Discovery Communications.

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