HBO Max taking on Netflix with human curation instead of solely relying on algorithms

Just like nearly everything else on the web , streaming services are ruled by recommendation algorithms that are designed to predetermine what people want before they invite it.


WarnerMedia is trying to accomplish the other with HBO Max. The company’s new streaming service, which can leave three concurrent streams, is positing itself as a human-first platform — the other of Netflix’s strategy. As streaming becomes more of a centerpiece in people’s homes and more platforms find their thanks to people’s television sets, that specialize in improving the particular curation system subscribers use is simply as important as available content, Sarah Lyons, senior vice chairman of product experience.

Lyons walked The Verge through a demo of HBO Max before the service’s launch and highlighted areas that WarnerMedia views as a core advantage HBO Max has within the space. Pockets of the platform are dedicated to collections of titles or television program episodes “recommended by humans.” Curators, starting from WarnerMedia editors to celebrities, put together an inventory of flicks and television shows they’re watching (or a package of choice episodes of Friends or Rick and Morty) to assist subscribers find something new watch.


“There’s such a lot great content out there that customers are quite getting a touch overwhelmed,” Lyons said. “It’s really hard for them to form a choice about what to observe . We felt like there was a true opportunity to try to to something a touch different with reference to discovery.”

An emphasis on human curation doesn’t mean HBO Max is totally forgoing machine learning tools to assist build recommendation algorithms. Both strategies are wont to make browsing through tens of thousands of titles easier. Subtle design decisions also are being implemented to assist with browsing, Lyons explained: traditional vertical posters (think of how Netflix displays series) are wont to indicate a movie or television program , rectangular boxes are designated for individual TV episodes, squares represent titles people are currently watching (these also will appear in subscribers’ “My List” section of the app), and circles represent people that are recommending something to observe .

HBO Max’s big play may be a quasi-social aspect that’s more in line with Spotify than Netflix. an enormous a part of creating a shared experience is making it feel tailor-made to every person. Spotify lets people share what they’re taking note of with friends and make their own shareable playlists. HBO Max won’t have a friends recommendation feature at launch, Lyons confirmed, but she suggested it had been a part of a much bigger ongoing discussion.

“We’re definitely watching all those sorts of things for later in our roadmap,” Lyons told The Verge. “We’re getting to be testing tons of various ways to offer other humans recommendations. As testing goes, and as we evolve the experience, we’re certainly watching things like friends giving other friends recommendations. But we'd like to read the info and see how consumers engage.”

Designing a streaming service as something people interact with rather than just scroll through, taking an isolating product and turning it into something that feels lifelike, is ambitious and filled with buzz words. Lyons’ team “assessed experiences that are call at the marketplace,” trying to find out what’s “best in class” and what features “you might not want to repeat.”

Outside of human curation, HBO Max seems like an amalgam of features from the opposite streaming platforms. check out how HBO Max handles its hubs. almost like Disney Plus, major tentpole hubs have special boxes that appear when people scroll through their homepage. Studio Ghibli, DC, Sesame Workshop, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, and Turner Classic Movies are just a couple of .


Clicking on a hub opens a completely new page with specific programming. (Like Disney Plus, HBO Max will feature an outsized catalog of older titles, TV shows, and cartoons, a number of which can depict imagery or include language which may be considered vulgar and inappropriate today. HBO Max will include messaging addressing the imagery and language, but Lyons didn’t discuss whether edits would be made like Disney has through with a number of its titles in Disney Plus.)

Another example is how HBO Max handles kids’ profiles, which is like Netflix therein they're separated from the most HBO Max app, so no child stumbles into The Wire when they’re checking out the late-night Elmo show. Those profiles are locked with pins (similar to Netflix), and fogeys can filter content by rating. Once those filters are in situ , movies and television shows that are deemed inappropriate are filtered out of search queries, too.

Other features mentioned by The Verge during the demo are being considered but aren’t available at launch, including having the ability to line a timer for a way long a toddler can use HBO Max.

“Things sort of a timer for a way long a toddler could watch is one among the ideas we had,” Lyons said. “We obviously need to do some testing and learning and find out prioritization of which things we’ll roll out. But things like that, things like dashboards for folks to be ready to see what their children are watching, or how long they’ve spent watching aids for the parent to possess more information about the title in order that they will make those decisions.”

WarnerMedia’s goal is to tailor HBO Max for individual subscribers as accurately as possible. It’s an equivalent goal Netflix has, but that’s why WarnerMedia is pushing its recommended-by-humans curation feature, one that Lyons acknowledges will get a way heavier lift over subsequent few months as HBO Max enters the planet .

HBO Max wasn’t made to emulate everyone else, but there are bits and pieces of Disney Plus and Netflix everywhere. HBO Max’s fundamental design goal is to function as an easy-to-use streaming platform that gives good discoverability and wastes as little time as possible for people between opening the app and hitting play. HBO Max doesn’t radically redefine streaming, but the service wants to feel unique in small ways: different-shaped icons, room for show-specific podcasts to exist, and celebrity profiles, which are all attempts to form the merchandise feel less sterile.

We’ll need to wait and see if small differences are enough to differentiate HBO Max. But there’s a neighborhood of me that seems like leaning on curation and celebrity recommendations aren’t just subtle marketing ploys. WarnerMedia wants to point out it knows what Friends fans want with highlighted episode bundles and demonstrate it understands film aficionados’ interests with bundled classic recommendations. WarnerMedia wants subscribers to desire celebrities, like Zac Efron, are speaking on to them, as if HBO Max has more in common with YouTube than Netflix.

HBO Max’s human curation may be a response to the impersonal nature of algorithmic recommendations. But is seeing what Zac Efron’s favorite teen movies really any longer personal?

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