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HBO Max goes live today, axes algorithm for sections curated by humans

By Jacob Oller

HBO Max, the WarnerMedia streaming service boasting a massive backlog of genre content (and which recently made headlines for being the home of the all-too-real Snyder Cut of Justice League), has launched. And it's apparently trying to do things a little differently.

Aside from a library that features such fan-favorite genre offerings as the Studio Ghibli films and the Harry Potter series, HBO Max boasts a few solid originals — with more to come in the future, of course — and a way of displaying it all that's relatively unique in a streaming environment dominated by Netflix. Rather than rely on a massive and omnipotent algorithm to make its suggestions, HBO Max is first banking on the human element.

According to The Verge, subscribers can find sections on the app where anyone from WarnerMedia pros to celebrities have put together watchlists — eschewing high-tech wizardry for shows and movies “recommended by humans.” That's just as important to HBO Max as the actual content of its vault, according to the service's senior vice president of product experience, Sarah Lyons. And the experience is only going to get more social as the service hits the public.

“We’re going to be testing a lot of different ways to give other humans recommendations," Lyons explained. "As testing goes, and as we evolve the experience, we’re certainly looking at things like friends giving other friends recommendations. But we need to read the data and see how consumers engage.”

In the meantime, HBO Max isn't just sections straight from people — as refreshing a concept as that might be. There are still the service's channel-like bubbles, offering up collections like media from DC, TCM, Adult Swim, or the aforementioned Studio Ghibli. WarnerMedia has a big ol' bunch of content, so separating it up as much and as helpfully as possible is going to be key to HBO Max's success. And the human element is only going to become more important as the service gains a user base.

“There’s so much great content out there that customers are kind of getting a little overwhelmed,” Lyons said. “It’s really hard for them to make a choice about what to watch. We felt like there was a real opportunity to do something a little different with regard to discovery.”

HBO Max goes live today, May 27.