Wolk’s Week in Review: HBO goes full Max, Google launches new TVOS interface

Wolk's Week In Review

1. HBO Goes Full Max

WBD went and announced that they would indeed be combining HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single app, a move that was so unsurprising that many reports seemed to focus on the string of imitations WBD Streaming chief J.B. Perrette was doing on stage.

That said, the move is a big one as it gives the new Max app a whole lot more content options and thus a whole lot more reasons for people to see it as one of the Big Three.

It also introduces a brand new interface, one that is designed from scratch (as opposed to the prior interface, which was designed as a series of kludges that dated back to HBO Now days).

And interface is going to play a much bigger role in the years ahead, almost as much as content.

But I digress…

The biggest controversy (other than what role, if any, CNN will play in Max) seems to have been around the choice of name, with many bemoaning the decision to lose the “HBO” part.

Which I actually think was the smartest move they’d made.

Why it matters

Perrette explained they were going with Max because “HBO is not TV, HBO is HBO” but there are things he could not say.

But I can.

HBO is not new. People have had 25 some odd years to decide if they like the network in its current incarnation as a purveyor of buzzy original series. 

And, as I might have noted on here before, many of them don’t like it.

They don’t get why “Barry” is funny. Or why anyone would care about a bunch of rich assholes like the Roys.

Or, to recycle last quarter’s quote-du-jour, they see it as “snobby shows that no one watches.”

So there’s all that.

And here’s the thing: the people who have watched and loved HBO for the past 25 years are not suddenly going to stop subscribing to Max because it doesn’t have HBO in the name. (And, from Perrette’s remarks, it sounds like HBO will continue to be a strong sub-brand, with shows clearly delineated as “HBO” and “Not HBO.”)

Nor are they likely to stop subscribing because Chip and Joanna Gaines, Top Chef and Shark Week are suddenly on the same app.

For Max to succeed, WBD needs to get all those people who were not HBO subscribers because they didn’t like HBO to get over that and subscribe to Max.

And the new name helps.

It tells them that yes, there’s plenty here that’s not HBO, enough to make that $16/month worth it even if you never watch a single episode of “The White Lotus”.

It’s not just Discovery/Scripps programming, but also kids programming (Perrette mentioned doubling down on that) all those Warner Brothers movies and all those library series (e.g. “Seinfeld”.) 

So a compelling reason for viewers to make Max one of the two or three services they continually subscribe to.

As for CNN…well, it’s complicated.

I’ve noted before that at times it can seem as if the WBD team are the only ones in the industry who get that once those billions of dollars worth of carriage and retrans fees go away, they’re gone forever. And that no amount of high-CPM targeted and addressable ads will ever come close to replacing them. Which will mean a completely different economic reality for the US TV business.

So it is very much in WBD’s interest to keep milking that cow for as long as they can. Many people continue to subscribe to cable precisely because it gives them access to CNN.

With regional sports networks (RSNs) quickly abandoning cable and launching their own streaming apps, CNN is, in many ways, all that stands between linear pay TV and the abyss.

So of course WBD is going to try and hang on to those dollars for as long as possible, even if that means keeping CNN off of streaming. (I say “of course” and yet at times it seems they are the only ones thinking that way.)

Here too, the rationale is similar to HBO: CNN has a legion of die-hard fans, people who consider it a “must have.’ So whenever CNN does move to streaming, even if it’s closer to 2030 than to 2023, those fans will follow and everything will be alright. Which is not something you could do with a less iconic network.

What you need to do about it

If you’re WBD, take a bow, or maybe get prepared to take one—the app hasn’t launched yet—May 23rd is D-Day—and so I’ll hold my full kudos until I see it in action, but so far so good. Very, very good.

One other request: make it easy for people who currently subscribe to Discovery+ and HBO Max to combine the two. (That may be me and five other people, but still…)

If you’re Disney and Netflix, you now have some increased competition. The question will be how well you and Max can mesh audiences that like “snobby shows” and people who like shows that people who like snobby shows would never deign to watch. 

Not an easy task.

If you’re a family unit and you’ve got a range of tastes in the house, Max sounds like a promising bet to add to your staples.

2. Google Launches New TVOS Interface

Google, who have been quietly working on their TV OS for a while now, debuted the start of a revamped Google TV OS that features over 800 FAST channels in total, a number that includes their new already-on-the-screen-when-you-log-in channels along with channels from Pluto TV, Tubi, Plex, and Haystack News. 

The new interface also includes a number of personalization features to make it easy to wade through those 800 channels.

The service is available through Chromecast (the device) and via Google-powered TVs from Sony, TCL, Hisense and Philips.

But that’s not really the news.

The news is that they are planning to export all this, in some form or another, to their Android TVs sometime later this year.

Which is news because there are a lot more of those Android TVs, especially in markets outside of the U.S.

Why it matters

Have I ever mentioned I thought that the OS Wars are a big deal? Bigger than the Streaming Wars? (And, as per a conversation with Google TV’s Rob Caruso, “wars” is 100% the wrong term because it implies a zero sum game, and in both cases it is more a struggle to amass the most territory, albeit one that will have multiple “winners.”) SEE ALSO: “Netflix Killer.” No one was “killing” Netflix, SMH.

But back to Google.

The new interface is nicely done and a big improvement over what came before, which, TBH, is not always a given with Google.

But that’s just window dressing.

The Android piece is big, as is the fact that YouTube TV is now firmly integrated into the interface along with Sling TV (there’s a “Live” tab on the main screen to get you there.)

And where there is YouTube TV, there is YouTube.

Which, as discussed earlier this week, is still dominating Streaming Watched On An Actual TV Set viewing, beating out the likes of Netflix and Disney. (At least according to Nielsen’s The Gauge.)

Given that stat, it is not all that much of a stretch to imagine access to popular YouTube content being baked into a later Google/Android interface as well. I’m thinking personalized linear YouTube channels that function sort of like the suggested playlists. Because AI.

Regardless, it’s all a big step forward for Google, who have sort of been biding their time. 

And for all of you who have not been paying attention, here’s a quick refresh on the TV OS Land Grab: Outside of the US, the question of who will control what share of the TV OS is very much an open question, with something like 40% of the market up for grabs. Roku has been struggling to make inroads, so the main players seem to be Google and Amazon on the tech front and Samsung and LG on the CE front, with independent white label companies like Foxxum playing a significant role too. 

Ownership of the TV OS provides multiple gatekeeper-like advantages including the ability to decide which apps appear on the TV and in what order. It’s also quite lucrative in that there’s much ad revenue to be made from selling tune-in and other ads on the homescreen. 

Not to mention all that data.

So much data.

What you need to do about it

If you’re the Google TV Team, well done. This is a big leap forward for Google, with the promise of more to come. And I will definitely be keeping my eye out for the “more to come” part.

If you’re Amazon, game on. 

Fire TV has always been something of a mess, the sort of interface that screams “ENGINEERS BUILT THIS” (that all caps is to indicate screaming.) and, I suspect a strong reason why consumers have so readily adopted the updated native operating systems from LG, Samsung and VIZIO, all of which are far more intuitive. 

If you’re a consumer and you own a Google-powered TV, this should be a game changer too. I have not had a whole lot of chances to play with the new interface, but it seems pretty intuitive and offers a whole lot more options with more to come. Point being you can finally dump your dongle.

If you’re Disney, I would try to find a similar deal for Hulu Live TV with one of the smart TV OEMs or even Roku. Seems like a win-win.

If you’re Roku… well, I am of two minds. On the one hand, your iPhone-esque interface is both iconic and super simple to use and great for anyone who goes in knowing exactly what they want to watch. 

The flip is it’s not that great for someone who goes in thinking they have no idea what to watch.

So maybe offer both options—the classic and a more robust The Roku Channel-based alternative?

This summer at the StreamTV Show in Denver join us as TVREV presents “The Future of FASTs Workshop” on June 12, 2023. TVREV’s “FASTs Are The New Cable” reports helped define the state of FASTs today. In this session, brought to you by TVREV and the StreamTV team, we’re going to take things to the next level. Come participate as we talk to key thinkers and decision-makers in the field to explore where the FAST ecosystem is heading in the years to come with an eye towards the ways it will impact programming, advertising, the interface and local TV. View full StreamTV Show Agenda.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Wolk's Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of Fierce Video.