HBO Max Engineers Set Sights on Amazon Fire TV and Xbox as App Upgrade Schedule Lags Behind Promised Timeline

(Image credit: WarnerMedia)

In August of last year, with HBO Max getting slammed on Twitter and on Reddit for an app that crashed too much, took too long to load and was hard to search, erstwhile parent company WarnerMedia declared that in the ensuing four or five months, HBO Max apps for each major connected TV platform would be overhauled.

Certainly, progress has been made. In September, WarnerMedia debuted a new HBO Max app for Roku, based on technology developed by the Ottawa-based You.i TV unit purchased by WarnerMedia for $100 million. That app, which looks largely the same as the legacy HBO Now/Go tech from which the original HBO Max app was built on, reduced crashes by 90%, WarnerMedia said. 

A subsequent Android TV upgrade improved load times by 50%. And last week, the upgrade was plied to Apple TV

Still, however, nine months after Warner's declaration to solve its HBO Max app issues, key platforms still haven't been addressed. 

Speaking to Protocol, Sarah Lyons, head of product experience for HBO Max, said upgrades for Amazon Fire TV and Microsoft Xbox consoles are coming next. She didn't disclose a timeline. 

Notably, Lyons conceded that WarnerMedia -- now Warner Bros. Discovery after last week's closure of the company's $43 billion merger with Discovery -- was well aware that the code used for legacy digital services HBO Now and HBO Go wasn't fit for an HBO Max platform that has gobs more content and more users. 

However, in the spring of 2020, with Disney Plus already in the market and the clock ticking for HBO Max to enter the Streaming Wars, WarnerMedia made the strategic decision to go with flawed legacy technology rather than wait months for a new app architecture to be baked. 

“We knew that that platform never could handle what HBO Max was going to do,” Lyons told Protocol. “It never was intended to go global, it was never intended to go direct-to-consumer.”

For its part, HBO Go was a "catch-up" app that lacked robust search and discovery features. “You didn't have to go find anything, because whatever [show] you were looking for was going to be at the top of the home page,” Lyons said.

HBO Max struggled out of the gate. Not only was its app clunky, it wasn't even available during the service's first six months for crucial platforms including Roku and Amazon Fire TV. 

Perhaps even worse, the crushing initial impacts of pandemic quarantines badly curtailed HBO Max's launch schedule for new shows, including that vaunted Friends reunion. 

WarnerMedia purchased You.i TV in December 2020 and put it to work on a new HBO Max app, but few noticed the connection. 

However, in the spring of 2021, HBO Max began to find its audience with hit original shows including Mare of Easttown and Hacks, as well as a flurry of Warner Bros. theatrical releases that were premiering day and date on HBO Max because of the pandemic. 

Suddenly, usage was way up, and subscribers were complaining about the Max app in droves, across platforms. 

For Lyons and her team, it's been a white knuckle ride since, triaging solutions while trying to get the upgrades for specific CTV platforms to market. 

“I've literally been looking at customer feedback daily. I look at all social media, tweets, every single word a customer says,” she said.

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!