The Future of ‘Max’ Looks Pretty Good Without ‘HBO’

Save a few bad impressions by Warner Bros. Discovery streaming guru JB Perrette, "Max" made a pretty good first impression.
"Peter and the Wolf" poster image — Max
"Peter and the Wolf" poster image — Max
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Discovery

Excellent content aside, HBO Max was not a universally beloved streaming service. Don’t take our word for it; Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels publicly copped to as much in January. In a Variety survey published Tuesday, HBO Max came in as both the second-best and second-worst user interface among the major streamers. (You figure that one out.)

Results included complaints about basic features, including rewind buttons and virtual keyboard design, along with bugs and stalling. “I consistently find the [user experience] of HBO Max angering,” one of the survey’s 40 anonymous interviews offered.

Inciting anger is never a desirable feature, but HBO Max will soon be no more. On May 23, the streamer will be replaced by a brand-new platform that was built from the ground up. (By comparison, HBO Max replaced HBO Now, which replaced HBO Go, which replaced linear HBO for many cord-cutters.). Max will consist of all new tech, a new look (now it’s blue!), and a new name — well, sort of.

The future combination of HBO Max and Discovery+ will be known as “Max,” we officially learned on Wednesday — but you, like us, probably knew that well in advance. Nevertheless, in the spirit of introduction and celebration, reporters were invited to the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California to witness the live-streamed, hour-long reveal (with a media Q&A to follow).

Of course, Max won’t just replace HBO Max. It will include much of Discovery+, a service that is a whole lot less prestigious (and less expensive) than HBO Max. According to Variety’s curated poll, not many Hollywood insiders use Discovery+. (Don’t “@” this reporter and HGTV superfan.) “This is the one streaming service that can get away with a mediocre [user interface] because the service and its content are so niche,” said one respondent.

That niche-ness — and the relative cheapness — led management in February to make an about-face decision on the future of the Discovery-branded platform, the home to popular home, food, and “90 Day Fiancé” programming. Originally, Warner Bros. planned to scrap the Discovery+ app and fully integrate the programming into Max. Now, there will be options for a standalone Discovery+ and the bundle with Max. (There will still be no HBO-programming-only streaming option, and Max will not have all Discovery+ content.)

The "Max" logo
The “Max” logoCourtesy of Warner Bros. Discovery

Wednesday’s event was a long time coming. The company pushed back combining the streamers into a brand-new platform several times since WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. merged last April. Wiedenfels in January acknowledged it’s been “a little frustrating” waiting for Max to take shape.

“But the reality is, you only get one chance for a first impression with the consumer, and we’re not going to launch something that is not adequate,” he said at the Citi Communications, Media & Entertainment Conference.

If the presentation that introduced the world to Max is any indication, the Max experience will be superior to the HBO Max experience. There were no live-stream hiccups; unless you count Warner Bros. Discovery streaming boss JB Perrette’s Bugs Bunny and Joey Tribbiani impressions. Those weren’t, let’s say, HBO quality. Or unless you count that weird moment when, at the very end of the presentation, WBD president & CEO David Zaslav referred to the upcoming “Harry Potter” series as being “on HBO.” You mean Max, David, the giant (blue!) logo behind you.

What’s in a name, anyway? (Hopefully not much, if your name is now “Max.”) Credit Warner Bros. Discovery for keeping Max prices the same — for now, at least — as HBO Max. Ridicule the name all you want, but you can’t say  the value hasn’t changed. If you don’t want to watch the Max (via HGTV) Barbie Dream Home tie-in to the Warner Bros. “Barbie” movie, don’t; you’re not really paying for it.

In addition to plenty of (select) Discovery programming, Max will also have more that HBO Max lacks: personalized recommendations upon finishing a series or film, kids profiles with functional parental controls, and a rebuilt downloads feature. Plus, the new app’s response and video-start times will be 20-30 percent faster, Perrette said (in his own voice, thank goodness). Also faster will be a Warner Bros. Discovery engineer’s ability to revise Max’s pricing pages to reflect promotions, for example. Changes that once (somehow) took “weeks” (!) in the past will now take all of a day, he said.

And then there is this, a fix for the single-weirdest churn problem we’ve heard any streamer publicly address about their platform: Evidently, HBO Max’s billing ability was so poor that half of its U.S. customer cancellations were due to a user’s credit card expiring, a checking account with insufficient funds, or some other bizarre “involuntary” exit. Perrette vows the new streamer will be better able to alert uses of billing issues, both via notification and by email.

Wow, this app really does it all. We should call it…

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