It’s holiday season, which means — for me — binge eating my aunt’s homemade food and spending a lot time lying down, digesting.
And what better way to spend time lying down than watching some TV?
So I’ve spent a ton of time watching TV this holiday season, and after many many hours of content consumption, I can safely say that I absolutely hate using the HBO Max app.
Before I completely rail on this app, let me explain my situation.
I am what I would self-describe as a “speed watcher”, meaning I binge watch TV shows and I try to get through them as quickly as possible.
I definitely wouldn’t say it’s the best way to consume television, but it’s what I’ve become accustomed to.
I like to watch a lot of stuff in the shortest amount of time.
And as a speed watcher, my needs are threefold:
- I need to get the gist of a TV show very quickly, in order to decide to commit to watching it
- I need to skip past the “filler” parts of an episode
- After finishing the pilot, I need to look ahead at upcoming episodes and determine if the show is worth continuing
And when I compare HBO Max to other streaming services (e.g., Netflix and Amazon Prime), its app is a lot more painful to use in order to fulfill my needs.
Author’s note: I’m only going to compare HBO Max to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video because I don’t have other streaming services like Hulu or Disney+).
HBO Max has a limited content assessment experience
When I think of a high-level video streaming experience, it roughly follows this journey:
- Content discovery: a TV show or movie has piqued your interest
- Content assessment: you do some research to determine if it’s worth investing your time
- Initial viewing: you watch the first X amount of minutes to experience first-hand how good it is
- Go/no-go decision: after X amount of minutes or episodes, you decide to invest your time to watch the whole thing
- Optional secondary go/no-go: depending on the length of the movie or TV series, you may reassess if you want to continue watching later down the line
Let’s put aside content discovery for now. There are a myriad of ways for someone to discover content: social media, a friend’s recommendation, just browsing the streaming app’s home screen.
Regardless of how a show has caught your eye, you want to assess if the content is “good” or not; if it’s “good” (by your definition), then you’ll happily spend the time watching it.
The definition of “good” varies per person, but you typically make that call by gathering more information: watching the trailer, seeing the chatter from social media, or reading reviews from critics or other viewers, etc.
However, HBO Max really provides none of that information within its app.
Let’s say I want to watch His Dark Materials on HBO Max, the TV adaption of the book series (people may remember the 2007 movie The Golden Compass, which was a movie adaption of the first book in the book series).
I click on the title card on the app, and this is what I get:
I get a BIG image of James McAvoy’s face, a tiny sentence talking about the pilot episode, and another tiny sentence talking about the show overall — hidden in the bottom of the screen.
How am I supposed to make a quick decision on watching His Dark Materials, when HBO Max gives me no information on what the series is about?
Contrast HBO with what I get from Amazon Prime Video, when I want to watch The Boys:
I can watch the trailer. I can scroll down and read each episode’s synopsis, as well as read reviews from other viewers.
Netflix even has the controversial auto-play trailer feature for their titles, in order to quickly and seamlessly (although annoyingly) with content assessment:
HBO Max doesn’t let me easily move through episodes
Okay, let’s say I decided that His Dark Materials isn’t for me, and I’d rather watch Euphoria.
As a speed watcher, I’d still like to power through the “slower” (in my opinion) parts of the episodes and get to the good parts.
This is where HBO Max’s web app is especially painful.
Maybe this stems from HBO’s past as a cable-only offering, but the web app UX is really not fit for a streaming user, especially one who likes to quickly jump around the episode and even the series.
For starters, HBO Max web app doesn’t have a Forward button (the mobile app luckily does. Hats off to the iOS team.)
I repeat — it literally has no button to go forward.
In a world where people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, it’s become an industry standard to have a forward button.
Except for HBO Max.
In lieu of a Forward button, I have to arbitrarily scrub the video’s progress bar — which is way less enjoyable than pressing a button.
Sometimes I’m watching a movie on HBO Max, and my fat thumb accidentally goes 15 minutes too far into the movie and I see a spoiler.
Secondly, HBO Max also doesn’t have a Next Episode button.
Similarly to why I like the Forward button, I use the Next Episode button to bypass “filler” at the end of an episode.
In lieu of a Next Episode button, I have two options:
- Wait for the episode to end, or skip to the end and have the next episode autoplay
- Go through four clicks on the web app (pictured below).
HBO Max has no “season overview”
So I finished the Euphoria pilot, and I’m not sold if I should watch the whole season.
I decide to skim through the synopses of each episode to determine if it gets more entertaining.
Oh wait — looks like I have to go back to the Euphoria series page and individually click on each episode to read more about it.
It’s too much work; maybe I should just switch back to The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, where I can scroll through each upcoming episode inside of the content viewer.
You’re probably wondering why I continue to use HBO Max, even though I hate the app.
It’s because the content is so good that it’s worth putting up with the poor user experience.
HBO’s content strategy has been best-in-class for decades.
There’s a reason why HBO has produced some of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows, like the Wire, the Sopranos, and Games of Thrones (who else is excited for season 7, am I right?).
HBO knows its brand stands for quality, that its differentiator is producing a few flagship “must-see” shows every year.
This is a drastically different content strategy from Netflix who will produce run-of-the-mill content in service of increasing engagement on its platform, or from Amazon who only wants to add ancillary value to a Prime subscription.
And I can’t say the same for any other streaming service.
I just hope that HBO can get its product team to ship a great viewing experience as well.