HBO Max launched in April 2020 amidst the global pandemic. Casey Bloys, chief content officer, and Andy Forssell, head of HBO Max Global, discussed at Websummit how they are combining powerhouse content with a dynamic product design to deliver a world-class streaming experience that will begin its international rollout next year.
HBO Max, which launched in May in the United States, will be expanding into Latin America and Europe during the second half of 2021, according to the head of HBO Max Global.
"By the end of the year both of those regions will be very active," Forssell said. He shared that, next year, HBO will be upgrading existing direct-to-consumer HBO services in Europe to HBO Max, which equates to doubling the amount of content and adding in many more capabilities.
Forssell, along with Casey Bloys, chief content officer of HBO and HBO Max, were interviewed by Laurie Segall, founder and CEO of Dot Dot Dot Media, during 100,000-attendee online conference Web Summit.
Discussing international expansion plans, Forssell noted that the plan is to be in 190 countries: "It's just a matter of how fast we can do that."
The challenging timing of HBO Max's launch, in terms of how close it fell to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was also touched on. Bloys said that, when March hit, there were a slew of shows for the upcoming HBO Max service that were about to start filming or in the middle of shooting and "everything drops".
The result was that – even though the launch of HBO Max was, in Forssell's words, "almost flawless" – not all planned shows were ready in time. At present, HBO's shows are back up to production "almost where they were in March," Bloys said.
When asked about what sets HBO Max apart from Netflix, Hulu and other peers in the streaming space, Bloys said: "It's not just the shows. It's how they're presented. To me it feels like there's an actual human offering up the shows, which is fun and pleasing and has personality." Forssell added that, for users, it means more human involvement in recommending programming.
"We absolutely present recommendations based on data, but we also have collections that a human put together. So you'll see us mixing human curation and data quite a bit, and that will accelerate over the next few months. But we think there's a balance that's a little bit off with many of the other services that are pure utility." - Andy Forssell, HBO
During quarantine, as expected by most, consumption of content has gone way up. HBO has seen 60 percent more consumption on a per-user basis after launch than in the quarter before the pandemic, according to Forssell. Along with HBO original shows such as Succession, viewers also have taken the opportunity to watch or rewatch shows including The Sopranos and The Wire.
"We saw a lot of people take on the classics that maybe they didn't have a chance to watch before," Bloys said. "It speaks to the value of a really deep, rich library."