Six Months After Launch and I Still Have a Bone to Pick With HBO Max

Illustration for article titled Six Months After Launch and I Still Have a Bone to Pick With HBO Max
Photo: Presley Ann (Getty Images)

Quick question: What the heck is going on with HBO Max’s content discovery?

Most major streaming services are constantly tinkering with their discovery features to help us find the latest and greatest on the platform, whether that be licensed content, originals, or trending titles. On Netflix, for example, the top of the page is generally reserved for newly released originals, while its following three rows surface popular, trending, and previously watched titles that allow you to pick up where you previously left off. After that, content is generally categorized by genre, with top 10 and originals categories peppered somewhere in between. It’s not a perfect discovery system, but it makes sense. HBO Max’s page, however, is puzzling.

Advertisement

A cursory look at the service’s homepage on Monday reaffirmed what I’ve been feeling for months: HBO Max’s discovery features suck. A “for you” section recommended two series from the ’90s, a poorly rated Christmas-themed rom-com that released last year, and the Big Bang Theory—a perplexing mix of suggestions that hardly aligns with my content interests (and, in fact, even the “continue watching” column appeared to miss some of my recently viewed titles).

Plus, you’d think that a company that’s releasing its full 2021 slate of films on this service would figure out a better way to promote its biggest titles. Just days after the release of Wonder Woman 1984, the film lacked any major title discovery for me beyond the “recently added” and “popular movies” sections. (His Dark Materials—a show I’ve never watched—featured at the top of the page for me on Monday, though I’d already seen 1984.) Instead, scrolling halfway down the page brought up a Gal Gadot-curated watchlist. Why not just use this dedicated space to promote the movie itself, given that viewership of the title has already fast-tracked a third Wonder Woman 3? Do I actually need to know that Gadot “enjoys” Moulin Rouge! or Cast Away?

Additionally, the service tends to bury its non-HBO titles from sources like Studio Ghibli and Adult Swim either entirely or toward the bottom of the page. If you want to find titles from these non-HBO properties, it seems you have to intentionally seek them out for yourself. (Algorithm or not, the page was this way at launch as well.) What I’d like to know is: What’s even the point of HBO Max if everything else is merely an afterthought? And why am I being served mediocre and dated licensed titles rather than some of the premier films and series native to the service?

I’m not even sure where to begin with fixing HBO Max’s terrible recommendation features. Bringing back the top-of-page carousel might be a good start. Part of the problem is that nobody seemed to think through how a mash of HBO content with all of WarnerMedia’s additional assets might look from a branding perspective. Then again, rival services like Hulu feature much of the same variety offered by HBO Max’s cornucopia of content and manage to handle discovery fairly well given their massive libraries.

Maybe the issue is that more than six months after its launch, HBO Max still has no idea what it’s trying to be. If it wants to continue competing with the bevy of other streaming services fighting for our eyeballs, though, it’s going to have to figure it out fast or hope we all really like Wonder Woman.

DISCUSSION

HBO was always the last premium channel I would ever consider dropping.

HBO Max is probably the first subscription service I would cancel.

They seem to be working hard to take a carefully curated premium brand, with a reputation built up over decades, into a hodgepodge discount brand with no real identity or vision. Sad to see.