Liberty's John Malone sees HBO losing out in the streaming wars

Key Points
  • AT&T's WarnerMedia announced last month its HBO Max streaming service will launch in the U.S. in May of 2020.
  • "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," Liberty Media Chairman John Malone said.
  • Malone believes HBO would have a hard time attracting new subscribers and the company also doesn't have the capacity yet to become an international player.
John Malone chairman of Liberty Media
Michael Kovac | Getty Images | Vanity Fair)

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone has some reservations about HBO's bid to enter an extremely crowded streaming market.

AT&T's WarnerMedia announced last month its HBO Max streaming service will launch in the U.S. in May of 2020. Starting with about 10,000 hours of content, the cable company is slated to compete with a slew of monthly subscription services including Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Lionsgate's Starz, Apple TV+, just to name a few.

"I don't see the growth for HBO in going this route," Malone spoke to CNBC's David Faber in an exclusive interview on Thursday. "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."

Malone believes HBO would have a hard time attracting new subscribers and the company also doesn't have the capacity yet to become an international player.

"The way I look at it is in the U.S., if you wanted HBO, you already have HBO. So I don't see they gain a lot of new customers," Malone said.

"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 and it will take them years to develop and hold onto enough content to be a real player internationally," he added.

AT&T aims to reach 75 to 90 million subscribers by 2025, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said previously. The company said it will spend $4 billion over the next three years building HBO Max.

CBS, Viacom merger

CBS and Viacom have agreed to merge, planning to accelerate their streaming strategies and expand globally. Malone said the combined company, which will be called ViacomCBS, is "cheap at the moment."

"What they don't have is global presence. While they make a lot of their own content, a lot of it is bought," Malone said. "CBS is totally dependent in my opinion on sports right... I'm not sure about long-term profitability or whether or not CBS has the market power to carry all of those channels."

The combination reunites the two media companies controlled by Sumner Redstone's National Amusements. Viacom spun off CBS in 2006.

"I think Viacom underinvested in the content on their channels for a number of years while they were spending their money buying back stocks at high prices," Malone said. "I think that was kind of a tactical mistake."