Navigating around Max, the new version of HBO Max that launches today (May 23) I was mostly impressed and pleased by how little has changed. But I picked up on a subtle change that should make a world of difference to streamers.
Discovery — as in finding stuff to watch — is the biggest low-stakes problem that most of us face every day. And I've found a few ways that Max will improve on this when compared to HBO Max (already the best streaming service).
Unfortunately, there's also one change that I don't agree with, though Max head of product Tyler Whitworth told me he believes they're making the right call. So allow me to explain why Max looks like a good thing — not a bad thing.
Max puts personalization everywhere
While many HBO fans might scoff their nose at Max, even I can understand that this chance for a re-do allows for improvements over HBO Max. As I clicked around Max, I noticed both alphabetical sorting and For You sorting options abound.
Whitworth tells me that personalized content shows up in every page of the interface, not just on the home screen (as it had on HBO Max).
This is done via core machine learning, with algorithms using the data of what you've watched, and content from people who watch the same stuff that you watch. And since Max will retain the data from HBO Max users, Whitworth said it will be smart about your interests on Day 1, though it will need time to know which of its newly added titles you'll want.
You'll also see personalized results while looking at pages for specific shows, and in the suggested content after you finish a show. Both of these views used to just show you content that's generically-related.
Oh, and Max's personalization will update faster than HBO Max's, too — making sure your most recent activity is taken into consideration.
Max's goal is no 'dead ends'
Whitworth also described one of the internal aims for Max is to stop the infinite scroll problem. Or, as he put it: "no dead ends." You know, that feeling of giving up as you fall further down the rabbit hole of scrolling through a page.
Now, Max will put genre-based filters at a certain point near the end of its many pages, so you can re-sort what you're looking for. Those filters, he explained, are meant to provide content for all kinds of moods, whether you want comedy, drama or something wilder and unscripted.
In that moment, I realized how they may view success with the integration of Discovery content. HBO is synonymous with Sunday nights. HBO Max added Thursday night deliveries of Max originals. And as for the new Max service? Well, Max is trying to get you to open the app no matter what your mood is.
The one thing I don't like about Max
Have you ever used the Last Chance section in the HBO Max app? It's an easy way to see what's leaving soon. And it's about to get harder to find. Formerly on the left-side menu, Last Chance will now live inside the New and Notable section.
Whitworth told me this change is happening because the menu section Last Chance used to live in (which is going away) wasn't used enough. I'm not shocked: people don't love menus, in my experience. But I don't think that putting departing content in the section for what's new makes sense either.
Outlook: Optimism, with a familiar concern
Overall, I'm generally positive about Max. I don't have any of the negative feelings my friends share with me, because I've gotten used to the name. There's just one thing left to discover.
HBO Max's stability issues may often feel like a thing of the past, but the service had issues as recently as this past January (for The Last of Us' premiere). And since I love HBO Max, the idea of making it bigger and larger with a ton more content does create a specter of server issues.
Whitworth tried to calm my concerns, saying that not only has there been a lot of work for app stability (with plenty of internal benchmarking), they're "happy where it is" on performance. Of course, there will be constant iteration and (hopefully) improvement.
And Max's first big test (aside from Day 1) is actually coming up. The Succession series finale is Sunday (May 28) at 9 p.m. ET. While Max is promoted as The One to Watch, I only really have one need: for Max to be "The One I Can Watch."