The streaming war has officially entered its most absurd phase. In the past few months, we've seen the launch of what I would argue are, for very different reasons, the two most peculiar entries, HBO MAX and Quibi. We'll set Quibi aside for now, because as much as I've tried, I can't quite figure out why it exists. That's saying something considering I sat through a hands-on demonstration with the company back in January at CES.
HBO MAX, on the other hand, has a very clear reason for being, but has done a terrible job explaining that reason. For example--and you'd be forgiven if this wasn't clear--HBO MAX is just HBO NOW with more stuff. Not all the stuff, but more stuff than when it was just HBO NOW.
It doesn't have 4K or HDR, or Dolby sound. It does have Friends, which is a big deal, but it doesn't have Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, which, if you're owned by Warner Bros., seems like a peculiar omission.
That all fine, except HBO just couldn't leave well enough alone. Now the service formerly known as HBO NOW is going to be known as just HBO. And the service known as HBO GO is going away entirely.
To sum things up, there's HBO, which is a cable TV network. There's also HBO, which is about to be a streaming app formerly known as HBO NOW. Except, that if you used to have the streaming app HBO Now, it's already updated to become the HBO MAX app. And, you can still download HBO GO, but not for long, because it's disappearing.
Got it? Probably not.
You might be wondering why HBO is continuing with such confusing nonsense. The simple answer is that HBO MAX doesn't have a deal with Roku or Amazon, the former of which is the most used streaming box.
It's an interesting position for HBO to be in, considering that it's owned by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T. It's not like the company isn't used to carrier disputes, but this one is particularly interesting since the company already had a deal to distribute HBO Go on Roku. Now it's canceling that service, presumably to put pressure on Roku to make a deal on HBO Max.
By the way, if that's all confusing, that's my point. I actually had to reach out to WarnerMedia to clarify all the changes, but the company did not immediately respond to my email.
There's actually an important lesson here. Does anyone who wants to stream Game of Thrones, or Harry Potter, or Friends, or old episodes of The Sopranos care about carrier disputes or app rebranding? Of course not. If you make your customers navigate an M.C. Escher-like grid of services and devices and content, there's a pretty good chance you're creating a terrible experience for your customers.
Compare that to Disney. If it's a Disney classic, Marvel, Star Wars, or Pixar production, you'll find it on Disney +. (And never mind that you'll pay a third of the price for that service than any of HBO's streaming options.)
HBO is betting that its content and premium brand will drive subscribers to HBO MAX. Except a brand is only as powerful as the experience it provides to its customers. That's true for every business, by the way, including yours. Make things too complicated and that will hurt your brand. On the other hand, when you make it as easy as possible for your customers, that's a win for everyone.