'The White Lotus' is keeping HBO Max audiences on the platform

28 March, 2023

As the streaming industry continues to evolve and expand, HBO Max is positioning itself to stay ahead of the curve in 2023. With a slate of highly anticipated original content, as well as an extensive library of classic shows and movies from HBO, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, and Adult Swim, the streaming platform is a major player in the competitive streaming landscape. 

HBO shows, a pillar of what HBO Max has to offer, are making headlines in 2023. The release of new seasons of highly successful shows — including the recent debut of the fourth and final season of Succession alongside the successful video game adaptation The Last of Us — has been drawing enormous attention to the platform from a broad audience. HBO’s sequential release schedule of hit shows virtually guarantees a consistent spotlight will be shining on its programming. 

Beyond the raw pop culture impact and high demand for these shows, we need look at how these titles contribute to funneling audiences to other shows within the HBO Max catalog in order to understand the role each series plays within HBO Max’s larger strategy. Using Parrot Analytics’ affinity data, it’s possible to measure the shared audience between a title and a platform’s catalog. For example, the chart below shows the shared audiences between three of HBO’s most recent original hits.

House of the Dragon, the spinoff of HBO’s most successful show so far, Game of Thrones, boasts a very high shared audience with Disney+, even higher than the affinity with HBO Max’s catalog. At first glance this might be perceived as a weakness of House of the Dragon, but combined with the huge demand the show generated in in 2022, it indicates that the series is actually very effective at attracting non-subscribers to the platform. Affinity for House of the Dragon unsurprisingly overlaps with other tentpole fantasy and franchise shows, which is a focal point of the Disney+ original programming strategy. Some of the shows with highest affinity with the HBO title include Andor and Obi-Wan Kenobi, both Disney+ shows from the Star Wars franchise. House of the Dragon contributes to attracting the huge audiences these titles engage to HBO Max.

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In contrast, The White Lotus has the highest affinity with HBO Max’s catalog. The shared audience between this title and HBO Max is much higher than the one between it and the other platforms. The White Lotus is a good retainer of subscribers for HBO Max, helping keep audiences engaged with HBO Max content even after finishing the show. Retention is a key contributor to reducing churn. In addition to the show’s ability to keep viewers engaged with other content on HBO Max, it has also succeeded in having a broader cultural impact — from its viral theme song to aiding star Jennifer Coolidge’s cultural resurgence. HBO clearly recognizes the value of the show, which was recently renewed for a third season set in Thailand.

The Last of Us stands in between House of the Dragon and The White Lotus. The show has its highest title-platform affinity with HBO Max, but by a small margin. The size of the shared audience between The Last of Us and Paramount+ stands out, especially when we consider that these numbers are mainly driven by the high affinity between the HBO show and the Paramount+ originals 1923 and Star Trek: Picard, two of the titles with the highest affinity with The Last of Us.

The data shown above provides a good picture of the different roles a series can play within HBO Max’s larger strategy and, by extension, every streaming service looking to both attract and retain subscribers.

When it comes to subscriber retention, a show like The White Lotus, is very effective at redirecting audiences to other shows available within HBO Max’s catalog, even though it has lower overall audience demand than blockbusters like House of the Dragon. The Game of Thrones prequel enjoyed consistently more demand in the months following its premiere than The White Lotus generated following the release of the second season. But, demand for both series converges to a similar level roughly 70 days after their respective premieres. The question that then arises is: “Which shows are their fans going to watch next?”

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