A few weeks before Warner Bros. Discovery Launches Its New HBO Max/Discovery+ Streaming Service, Max TechCrunch spoke with WBD CTO Avi Saxena and Chief Product Officer Tyler Whitworth about building the new platform from the ground up, on deployment of new functions. improving functionality, adding new technology and designing the product.
They also described the technical steps the company took to ensure Max subscribers have a smooth viewing experience.
As you might expect, merging two streaming services isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Overall, the company spent 12 months of planning to build a cohesive platform that serves all types of customers.
Saxena told us that to speed up the process, engineering teams from both sides stepped in.
“Putting the teams together was truly a MasterClass in engineering, organization, design and architecture,” said Saxena. “We brought in all the teams that worked on front-end technology, the team that worked on payments technology, the teams that worked on user authentication, all aspects of the product.”
“The team has had a very rigorous discussion about what we really want from our product to best serve the customer,” added Saxena.
It’s safe to say that WBD has a lot to prove with Max, given its not-so-great reputation with the HBO Max app, including several outages and complaints of playback issues, audio issues, and bugs.
Even WBD CEO and president of global streaming and gaming JB Perrette said HBO Max and Discovery+ had their respective “shortcomings,” he admitted during the WBD press event in April. The company also said in its announcement that Max will offer a new video playback experience that offers a smooth and cinematic experience to users.
“Performance is one of the most important parts of the platform,” Saxena told us. “So to improve performance, number one from the beginning, we set the goal that every app should be at least 20% faster than the existing app.”
To achieve this goal of faster performance and more stability, Saxena told us that Max uses multiple CDNs (content delivery networks) to improve application resiliency. CDNs are a group of servers that cache and deliver content to nearby end users while keeping the content secure. Basically, networks help speed up content delivery.
“So when something fails, the product still continues to work,” he explained in simple terms.
Max uses four CDNs: Amazon CloudFront, Google, Akamai, and Fastly. It also uses AWS as its primary cloud provider, which millions of businesses rely on for cloud storage, databases, and computing.
“In a given month, we deliver over an exabyte of content, which is 1,000 petabytes per month, which is a huge amount. And you can’t rely on a single CDN to do that,” Saxena added.
(For reference, an exabyte is a large unit of digital storage.)
“When we started building Max, we obviously had the benefit of learning a lot from HBO Max and even Discovery+, and we really focused on three things that we had learned,” Whitworth said. “One, doing the basics better. You know, the things that really matter to customers, how the product works… Second, we knew we wanted to make it easier for customers to find and see the content they like. Third , how we make it easier to use.”
In addition to performance, the main improvements WBD focused on were:
- Customization features
- Simplified navigation menu
- Best experience for kids
- Easier login and payment process
To begin with, Max will have individual user profiles designed to provide more personalized recommendations based on their viewing habits. Users will also receive a personalized homepage. Max will have recommendations across all platforms, a first for the company. Instead, HBO Max only has things like “More Like This” recommendations, which appear on the screen when users have finished watching a TV show or movie.
Recommendations are driven by both human curation and machine learning.
“While we want to offer personalized options to our customers, we also want to retain the option to promote some of the content we’re very proud of,” Saxena said. “So we chose the hybrid approach, where most of the page is generated by machine learning. And then our editors have the option to override.”
When HBO Max initially launched in 2020, only parts of HBO Max were dedicated to human-curated recommendations.
“We’re excited to take that combination of human and algorithm across the product, whereas before we were a little more selective and limited where it was done,” Whitworth added.
Another priority was to make the content easier to find. Max will have a new content navigation menu at the top of the screen, genre hubs and dedicated content pages for major WBD-owned brands: HBO, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV and more. Additionally, there is a new shortcut for users to add a title to their favorites list.
Max also gives parents the option to define new profile options for their child, such as Toddlers, Big Kids, Big Kids Plus, Tweens or Teens.
“We created these categories that make it a little more intuitive. Because not everyone knows what TV-PG means… [We] they want to make it easy for people to quickly understand it and see how it works,” Whitworth explained. “I have three kids myself, and you know, sometimes using those kids’ features in streaming products isn’t that easy how could it be.”
Netflix is a streamer that allows users to set different maturity settings: Kids, TV-PG and PG.
Another rival streaming service, Disney+, brings its children’s experiences to the little ones. So Max is likely to be aimed at slightly older kids who want to watch titles like “The LEGO Batman Movie,” “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai,” “Scooby-Doo” and more.
Power users also receive new alerts notifying them of failed payments. Also, Paypal is now a payment option.
The streaming service will offer users a new login process, so they no longer have to type in their credentials with the TV remote.
A notable but expensive addition to the updated platform is the new tier, “Max Ultimate Ad-Free” ($19.99 per month), which gives users access to more 4K UHD content, 100 offline downloads, quality Dolby Atmos sound and the ability to play on four devices at once.
Whitworth said the release of the definitive plan gives the company an opportunity to provide better video quality and more downloads to customers. “We thought giving customers more options was generally a better direction to go. And we’re excited to see how customers use it in the future,” Whitworth said.
It’s important to note that HBO Max subscribers previously had access to 4K content, but only paid $15.99 per month. Now they’ll have to shell out more money if they want to watch high-quality reproductions of their favorite titles like “The Last of Us,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy, among others. .
Notably, Whitworth also noted that the engineering team created a “really great” live platform that can “deliver any kind of live content,” he claimed.
In the past, HBO Max has broadcast live UEFA Champions League matches in Brazil and Mexico. In January of this year, the streamer began broadcasting live national sporting events, giving subscribers access to live US national football matches.
The company has yet to announce which live sports events will be launched on Max.
“I think we’re excited about what the Max live could be. We’re still working out what it’s going to look like, when that might happen, what’s going to be included or not,” Whitworth added.
As for the overall design, Whitworth said the company intentionally didn’t want Max to look drastically different from its predecessor, HBO Max.
“We wanted to make the transition pretty smooth for our HBO Max customers. So we really saw the product as more of an evolution of HBO Max than a revolution,” Whitworth said. “You’ll see that it has a lot of look and feel and some similarities to HBO Max, so it wouldn’t be a big transition for those who use HBO Max all the time.”
When asked about future plans for the future, Whitworth declined to go into detail. However, he noted that the company is exploring “better opportunities to find content when you’re actually in the video player.”
“There’s a long list that we’re very excited about and ultimately it’s going to be based on what customers like and how they use our product and we’ll evolve in the way that works best for our customers,” he said.
While Max will essentially look like a revamped HBO Max, aside from the new blue color and slightly different name, it will also include most of the Discovery+ content.
The company is also set to launch new content on the service, including a “Harry Potter” TV series and a “Game of Thrones” spin-off.
The streamer will launch in the US on May 23rd.
Warner Bros. Discovery, a joint venture between AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Discovery Inc, recently appointed a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Product Officer (CPO) to ensure their streaming service Max runs smoothly. Paul Iaffaldano, Warner Bros. Discovery’s CTO, and Amol Kapoor, CPO, are setting out to make Max less buggy.
Paul and Amol have set some ambitious goals when it comes to supporting Max. Paul believes in a more proactive culture when it comes to delivering solutions both quickly and reliably. He has said that he wants Warner Bros. Discovery to “establish an engineering culture of continuous improvement and proactive problem solving that increases the value of the service with each iteration.”
Amol explains that the key to making Max less buggy is establishing an open dialogue between Warner Bros. Discovery and its partners. This requires ensuring that the CPO and CTO are both getting the same information from the same suppliers and developers. They also need to make sure that the same development and testing processes are being adhered to. Amol outlines this as “establishing a culture of ownership, where everyone is accountable for the quality of their code and the effect it has on the product”.
To make Max better, Paul and Amol are also both looking to streamline the development process. This includes slashing the release cycle from months to weeks so that new features are constantly on the horizon. By introducing a system of agile development and continual feedback loops, they are ensuring that all changes are properly implemented, tested and deployed.
At Ikaroa, we know how important it is to have a streamlined development process, which is why we offer services such as continuous integration and delivery, and automated testing and debugging. Our tools help teams of all sizes to quickly identify and fix issues to ensure the best product is on the market. With Ikaroa, teams can focus on delivering high-quality solutions; leaving the bug-fixing to us.