What to Expect From the Much-Anticipated HBO Max

WarnerMedia’s big streaming bet emphasizes human curation and discovery

previews of different shows on a streaming platform
HBO Max debuts today with six originals, but its main draw will be its deep library.
HBO Max

Key insight:

HBO Max debuts today, and while the streaming service is arriving in quite a different business landscape than previously expected, WarnerMedia is optimistic that the value proposition of a high-quality content library is more appealing than ever.

The streamer, which combines HBO programming with a large quality of content from WarnerMedia’s film and television brands, is designed to serve as the cornerstone of parent company AT&T’s streaming ambitions. It comes after a condensed, wall-to-wall marketing push to build awareness and get potential customers excited about some of the most popular programs on the service.

On the content side, HBO Max is offering up 10,000 hours of programming for all ages, ranging from kids shows like Sesame Street and Cartoon Network to classic films from Turner Classic Movies. The platform itself is aimed at making it easier for users to find programming that they may want to watch without having to dig deep into the corners of the app to find it.

Ultimately, HBO Max hopes to stand out by walking a fine line between having enough content for everybody without overwhelming users with too many options.

“There are a lot of superstores out there, and at times, the experience can be kind of an assault,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer of HBO Max and president of TBS, TNT and truTV, recently told Adweek. “We want to help the audience make choices about what they should watch, and so, we will only get behind things we believe are important.”

Expectations for the streamer are high. AT&T hopes all HBO subscribers in the U.S. will transition to HBO Max, mostly for no additional cost. But that’s easier said than done as some distribution deals with Amazon Fire, Comcast and Roku have not yet been struck, leaving those customers out of luck. (For those still trying to figure it out, here’s how to subscribe to HBO Max.)

The company is aiming have 50 million U.S. subscribers by 2025.

And while content is king for streamers, the user experience itself is of utmost importance for most streamers on the market, they’ve previously told Adweek. For HBO Max, the platform itself is aimed at alleviating that “paradox of choice,” said Sarah Lyons, svp, product experience at WarnerMedia.

“We know from some external research that, on average, consumers took about nine minutes to find a piece of content to watch, and about 20% of them gave up and abandoned their search entirely because they couldn’t find something,” Lyons said. “We felt like the sweet spot we could create with HBO Max is to make it feel alive and like it’s coming from a human being, and to elegantly blend human touch and curation with the underlying data to personalize.”

HBO Max is in many ways designed to be similar to HBO Now and HBO Go, the existing streaming services in the portfolio that have offered customers access to stream HBO programming. For some customers, HBO Now will be automatically updated to HBO Max today. The new interface is aimed at preserving the ease of HBO Now and Go, no small feat considering that the service doubles the programming available on HBO proper.

To do it, the service will offer human-curated collections and recommendations, while also relying on an algorithm that learns what viewers like as they watch. It’s a fine line to walk, but the hope from Lyons and other WarnerMedia executives is that HBO Max can help get people invested in its programming right away.

The app will have featured titles at the top to show off popular and well-loved titles and will feature larger recommended tiles to break up the rows of recommendations. Those might highlight one show, like the library sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or shows that are trending in popularity on the service.


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