With next month’s arrival of the new streaming service “Max” from Warner Bros. Discovery, the company is also promising a revamped product experience with an expanded feature set, improved recommendations, and better performance. The new service, which combines HBO Max and Discovery+ content into one offering, will gain an updated user interface that’s delivered by way of a largely seamless transition for existing HBO Max subscribers across most platforms.
However, Discovery+ subscribers will be able to continue to watch in their standalone app, if they choose, the company noted during today’s press event where it introduced the new service and its many forthcoming originals, including a new Game of Thrones series.
Of particular interest, the company openly admitted that its current HBO Max service has a number of technical shortcomings that it now aims to address with the move to Max.
“As we started this journey twelve months ago, we did a thorough assessment of our two streaming businesses, as well as the technology and products of each. And we realized that, while both were solid, they also each had important shortcomings,” said JB Perette, CEO and President of global streaming and games, while speaking to the gathered crowd.
“In summary, we needed to do the basics much better,” he said, before spinning his mea culpa into an odd form of praise by adding, “if we got this far with some suboptimal features and experiences, imagine what we will do when we get more of it right!”
That’s certainly an interesting way to sell things, we’d say.
Perrette said the new Max service would address several key business objectives, including user engagement, retention, more regular viewership, and easier, more personalized discovery of the content offerings, to name a few.
Though the company had announced an expanded slate of new original programming earlier in the event, including new series like Big Bang Theory and True Detective spin-offs, a live-action Harry Potter, DC Comics titles like “The Penguin,” and others, the exec also acknowledged that the product itself has to do a better job at surfacing its content for subscribers.
“HBO Max has an amazing depth of content, but it’s largely unexplored because we don’t make it easy enough to find,” he said. As an example of this problem, he noted that three-quarters of its viewership came from the home screen only, while on Discovery+ the majority of usage came from other screens deeper in the app. In addition, four times as much content drives the majority of viewership on Discovery+ than on HBO Max.
One might argue that’s because of the nature of the programming on the respective services, where Discovery+’s lifestyle content drives repeated viewing, perhaps, compared with flagship series like “Game of Thrones” that are viewed in real-time, but are not necessarily the types of shows to be rediscovered later and then rewatched. However, the company is betting that product changes will be able to improve these metrics around discoverability.
For starters, the revamped app will feature a new content navigation menu at the top that will help consumers more easily find the series and movies, as well as the new releases they may want to watch. Across the app, the company promises streamlined categories, improved content detail pages, shortcuts, dedicated brand hubs, and thematic content rails, to make the app easier to explore.
HBO’s brand will still have a prominent position in this new interface, too, but will be showcased alongside the company’s other top brands that will serve as gateways to their respective content.
There will also be genre hubs to dive into different types of content and a new quick shortcut that lets users save content to a list for later viewing.
For users on the new Ultimate Ad-Fre tier, the service will feature an expanded catalog of 4K UHD content, including across programming like “Game of Thrones,” “The Last of Us,” “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” “The Dark Night” trilogy and others. This catalog will expand to include all the Warner Bros. movies released this year and in the future.
Plus, individual user profiles will for the first time offer more personalized experiences where users are recommended new things to watch based on their prior habits and viewing, via things like “because you watched” recommendations, suggestions of what to watch next that appear when you finish a series or movie, and immersive hero images tailored to the end user. This personalized experience will extend beyond the home page, too, so users are seeing tailored recommendations across the full service.
A combination of machine learning and human editorial curation will help to drive these recommendations, Perette explained.
Parents will be able to configure their kids’ profiles, including through the use of parental controls. While that’s not new, the revamped Max will introduce a default kids profile for its new subscribers, with options for parents to set the profile to either little kids, big kids, big kids plus, pre-teens, or teens — an expanded set of kids’ tiers that goes beyond those offered by some rival services, where the “kids” experience is often aimed at younger school-age children. This tends to frustrate older kids, and teens when they outgrow cartoons and other “kids” content, but aren’t yet old enough for more adult fare, like much of what HBO offers.
Under the hood, the company touted other technological improvements focused on user retention, performance, and stability.
For example, Max will proactively alert customers about failed payments through notifications and on and off-product messages, including for the first time in-app alerts on connected TVs. It also added support for PayPal as another payment option and made it easier for its marketing teams to run promotional pricing without requiring weeks of engineering work.
The company additionally promised updates to its core architecture to deliver “faster, more reliable, and more efficient performance.” Among the changes, Max will offer a new connected TV sign-in process where users don’t have to type in their credentials with their remote and a more dependable downloads experience.
“…We maniacally focused on app performance to get our customers watching their content as fast as possible,” Perette said. “So app start times, video start times, and the general navigation response times will be 20 to 30 percent faster, depending on which device you’re using.”
The exec said HBO Max app customers will be automatically updated to Max on May 23 when the shift is made. On most platforms, this update will happen automatically, but others will prompt users who open the HBO Max app to download the new Max app instead. It will then only be “two clicks” to continue watching, Perette noted, as usernames, passwords, profiles, watch histories, watch rails, and billing will carry over automatically. Discovery+ subscribers won’t be forced to transition apps but will be prompted at different times to try the new Max app.
The new service will offer three pricing tiers, starting at $9.99 per month for ad-supported, $15.99 per month to go ad-free, and $19.99 per month for ad-free viewing with 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos. The latter two tiers also include offline downloads but are limited to either 30 or 100 downloads, respectively. The top-tier service also includes four concurrent streams instead of just two.