HBO Max, recently renamed to ‘Max’, is an over-the-top streaming service owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, an American mass media and entertainment conglomerate. Launched in 2020, it has grown rapidly and is now the third largest video streaming service in the US based on market share, after Netflix and Amazon Prime. With 95.8 million subscribers in 2023, WBD’s data analysis has enabled it to capture the needs of its diverse audience and create engaging content accordingly while maintaining profitability.
As a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service in a highly competitive market, Max is focused on developing customer loyalty while expanding its market presence. To achieve its objectives, WBD uses data-driven insights and real-time analytics. A step in this direction was the launch of a mobile app, enabling the team to collect data and analyze user behavior. Notably, in 2022, the HBO Max app garnered 80 million downloads, not accounting for usage via smart TVs and other platforms. Additionally, using the Databricks Lakehouse platform, the company develops rapid, cross-functional insights for data science, marketing, finance, and operations teams. These insights facilitate a personalized user experience and refine content recommendations. Max also uses natural language processing through its ‘HBO Max Recommends’ feature wherein a voice-based assistant helps the customers find something to watch quickly, making the streaming process more user-friendly.
The overarching goal of pursuing data analytics for Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) is to gain a real-time understanding of consumer behavior. Within this, there are specific steps such as tracking content viewership and monitoring social media. Tracking viewership on Max enables them to categorize viewers, leading to enhanced targeted advertising, marketing, and content delivery. The decision to rebrand HBO Max as Max, for instance, aimed to disassociate the platform from any associations with adult content, creating an inclusive appeal to a broader audience. Such decisions inspire more confidence when based on customer-centric data. Similarly, Social Media Monitoring provides valuable demographic-specific insights and identifies content themes that drive increased engagement. For instance, the Game of Thrones fandom observed on social media played a significant role in driving the marketing efforts for House of the Dragon, the most-watched TV show on HBO Max.
Additionally, platform features create feedback loops for improvement. For example, the “Click to Play” button serves as a metric for gauging the effectiveness of suggestions, indicating what content users are inclined to watch. According to Duan Peng, a senior executive at WBD, “We want the recommendation to come right away. This drives better engagement, customer satisfaction, higher loyalty, and subscription numbers.” Increased engagement and subscriptions ultimately lead to revenue growth.
Nonetheless, an overreliance on data poses significant risks and raises costs. WBD has seen a recent shift in its priorities from a subscription focus to profit maximization that relies heavily on data. The CEO, David Zaslav said, “We take a look at what people watch on Max and we can see exactly what they like and exactly what they don’t. And some of the stuff they’re not watching, we can put it on a free AVOD [advertising-supported video on demand] platform, and some of the stuff that they’re not watching, we can keep it non-exclusively on Max, but we could also sell it to others.” While retaining Discovery+ for paying customers aligns with this new profit-driven objective, such a broad-based strategy may not resonate well with users, potentially prompting them to migrate to other platforms. Notably, since rebranding as Max, the platform has already seen a loss of 1.8 million consumers. Moreover, the evolving nature of user behavior patterns makes predictions challenging. Striking the right balance between a conservative approach to platform changes, potentially risking market share, and an overly active one that may lead to subscriber loss is especially complex for a large-scale platform like Max.
Despite the high stakes involved, data-driven insights into viewer behavior, preferences, and content consumption trends, add unprecedented value to the company. Customized recommendations have resulted in user retention and may guide acquisition strategies such that investments are directed toward generating content in high demand. With the recent ambitious shift in Max’s marketing approach, it might be prudent to observe viewership patterns and gather feedback to deliver a personalized entertainment experience and uphold Max’s current competitive position in the streaming industry.