HBO Max exec emphasizes curation and localization

For HBO Max, premium streaming video is personal—not programmatic.

“Our biggest differentiator is how we weave together human-powered discovery and personalization,” said Melissa Weiner, senior vice president of product planning and strategy, at Fierce Video’s StreamTV World virtual conference.

“We don’t rely solely on algorithms to personalize every user’s home page,” Weiner told Michelle Castillo, senior reporter at Cheddar, in a pre-recorded conversation streamed Tuesday. “Again, we have local editorial teams made of real human beings that curate content for users based on what’s going on in the zeitgeist.”

With HBO Max just having completed its first expansion into European markets—its October 26 debut in Andorra, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain, and Sweden—Weiner also talked up the company’s international ambitions.

“Our mantra is, think global, act local,” she said—following up on what Sarah Lyons, WarnerMedia executive vice president for direct-to-consumer global product management, said at June’s StreamTV Show.

“From a technical perspective, from an infrastructure perspective, we think globally,” she continued. “But act locally, what we like to do is from a content perspective, from a language perspective, even from a cost perspective, we like to localize for in-region.”

That means more than just a handful of region- or country-specific shows: “We’ve committed to more than 100 local original titles in Latin America, and are going to be making similar commitments in al the new regions where we launch.”

Much of HBO Max’s audience will be drawn to flagship shows like Succession (Weiner said the premiere of its third season had more than 1.4 million people watching), but the company aims to give viewers an individualized presentation to match their tastes.

“Our system allows us and our local editors to move the modular sections of the page around,” she said. “People say, my God, the service just gets me.”

That extends to the younger viewers in a home, with Weiner commenting early in the almost 18-minute conversation that HBO Max offers kids’ profiles “that grow with the child” as well as parental controls.

“You have parents that grew up on Friends that are now introducing Friends to their kids,” she said of the comedy series that corporate parent AT&T reserved as an exclusive for HBO Max when it announced the service in 2019.

Castillo asked about HBO Max’s competition from a growing number of other streaming services, but Weiner professed herself unconcerned.

“We don’t see it as a zero-sum game; over 50% of households have more than three streaming services,” she said, adding that the service had recently announced that it had hit 69.4 million global subscriptons across both HBO Max and HBO. “Our plan is working.”

Castillo noted the success HBO Max has had carrying such Warner Bros. Pictures titles as Dune simultaneous with theatrical release and asked if the company would continue that practice post-pandemic. That got a rather open-ended reply.

“We want to make sure we can bring our content wherever our viewer is,” Weiner said. “For next year, we will see what we have in store for the titles, whether it’s day-and-date or something else.”

The conversation did not cover how HBO max will fit into its new owner Discovery’s portfolio when that firm completes its media with WarnerMedia sometime in mid-2022, but Weiner did tout what’s coming sooner: “more expansion.”

To wit, in 2022 HBO Max will reach much more of Europe while still missing some major countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey.