After losing streaming subs for three straight quarters, Warner Bros. Discovery added 1.8 million subscribers in the final quarter of 2023. The company now has a total of 97.7 million direct-to-consumer (DTC) subs, which includes linear (cable) HBO.

The acquisition of Turkish streamer BluTV chipped in 1.3 million subs; the remaining 500,000 were organic additions at mainstays HBO/Max and Discovery+. The segment’s all-in tally now also accounts for the 800,000 subs at TNT Sports Chile — those were not previously included in WBD’s grand total.

Even with the return to growth, the DTC segment still ended up losing $55 million from October to December. On the bright side, streaming turned a profit for 2023 as a whole — just as President & CEO David Zaslav predicted. The same cannot be said for Warner Bros. Discovery in its entirety; the company lost $400 million overall in the fourth quarter, which was worse than Wall Street expected. WBD also missed on already-tempered revenue forecasts in a challenging advertising market.

So yeah, 2023 didn’t exactly end with a bang.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s run of losing streaming subscribers was not a surprise, nor an indictment. Max, unlike its predecessor HBO Max, includes most Discovery+ content — some cannibalization was to be expected. Discovery+ remains available as a standalone service; Max launched on May 23, 2023.

For 2024, Zaslav says Warner Bros. Discovery’s “attack plan” is to launch Max “in key international markets” and to present “a more robust creative pipeline across our film and TV studios.” Good ideas. The latter one can’t begin in earnest until after the current quarter — last year’s writers and actors strikes shut down almost all Hollywood production, crippling everyone’s plans for early 2024.

What the pipeline spit out in late 2023 wasn’t much better. “Wonka” was WB’s big — and only — theatrical winner in Q4, making more than $600 million worldwide. “The Color Purple” made one-tenth of that. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” came out at the end of the year, and has since made $433 million at the box office. That number means the big-budget DC tentpole drowned.

Want a TV highlight? Check out “The Gilded Age.”

WONKA, Timothee Chalamet, 2023. ph: Jaap Buittendijk / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Wonka”©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Warner Bros. Discovery was formed on April 8, 2022 through the combination of WarnerMedia (then owned by AT&T) and Discovery, Inc. The merger created a giant pile of debt, which WBD has been steadily paying down. In Q4, the company nixed more than $1.2 billion in debt; the grand total now stands at $44.2 billion. April 8, 2024 looms large in the industry’s mind — it is when Warner Bros. Discovery can step back into the M&A space. Let the games begin.

Speaking of games, WBD, Disney, and Fox plan to launch a joint sports-centric streaming service in the market this fall. The planned service, which has drawn a lot of ire — or at least raised a number of eyebrows — is presently unnamed and unpriced.

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