(Reuters) – WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service gained subscribers through the holidays, defying the slowing pace of growth at some rival services, thanks to a programming lineup that included the revival of its popular “Sex and the City” series and newly released films such as “The Matrix Resurrections.”

HBO ended the year with 73.8 million subscribers to its streaming service and namesake cable network, up from 69.4 million in September. These gains, together with the addition of nearly 900,0000 paying monthly phone subscribers, sent shares up 3% to $26.46 in midday trading.

“I do believe the ceiling on streaming services is much higher than we’ve seen to date,” said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, in an interview. “This is going to quickly become, for storytelling companies, a three-horse race.”

HBO Max still has a long way to go to catch market-leader Netflix Inc, with its 214 million subscribers, and Walt Disney Co’s Disney+, with 118 million. Disney’s growth slowed down in the company’s fiscal fourth-quarter, prompting one banker to downgrade the stock. Disney+ added just 2.1 million in the October quarter.

Netflix, which had a sharp slowdown in the first half of 2021, reported a bump in sign-ups in October, adding 4.4 million in the quarter, buoyed by the global sensation “Squid Game.”

WarnerMedia’s HBO Max logged gains as it expanded the service’s reach from a single market, the United States, to 46 countries. Kilar said global expansion would continue this year, with the goal of eventually reaching 190 countries.

AT&T announced last May that it would spin off its WarnerMedia unit and merge it with Discovery. That deal is on track to close in the middle of this year.

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)



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