One of the biggest stories in tech in 2020 was the rise of streaming services, and the migration of content to streaming platforms. This was expected even before the pandemic, but once Americans were stuck at home for months at a time, the trends accelerated.
That was the topic of a panel at CES on Tuesday, called “Streaming’s New Era,” in which executives from Amazon, WarnerMedia (owner of HBO Max) and Starz spoke about the streaming wars, and how they’re strategizing to make the user experience better.
The panelists were Sarah Lyons, the Senior Vice President of Product Experience for WarnerMedia, Sandeep Gupta, the vice president and general manger of Fire TV for Amazon, and Stefanie Meyers, the vice president of distribution for Starz. Brent Weinstein of the United Talent Agency served as moderator.
Lyons talked a bit about how things go on behind the scenes at HBO Max.
“Our tech and product teams we assembled to work on HBO Max are some of the best technologists in the business and they actually have… decades of experience at the intersection of tech and entertainment. We do have incredible content and great storytellers at WarnerMedia, and we wanted to make sure that that content shines within our experience.”
“I think the three of those teams, content, product and tech, working so tightly together, is what’s going to enable us to have success.”
Starz, on the other hand, “went straight to OTT.”
“Starz realized very early on that having a clear product and a clear strategy is critical to reaching your consumers. So rather than launching side-by-side products… we just went out with one app. We are very clear we have one product and the content is the same everywhere, and we’re not trying to create miniature versions of it here and there. And we’re really focused on making sure the consumer can reach our content… I think at the end of the day we’re all kind of this battle to make sure that are customers are able to find our content as easily as possible.”
Amazon’s Gupta had similar sentiments, about making sure content is easy to find.
“I think one of the challenges that customers face today, in this environment… is that you can get answers to all kinds of content, and new originals, but lots of new shows, but it’s not always the easiest to find, and you’re also working through a generational transition, where you have different ages and different groups of people who know how to use television one way.”
HBO Max’s Lyons added that the company has its own strategy for getting customers to the right content.
“We do find that about two-thirds of the time, users know what they’re looking for, and they go back to something that they habitually view,” she said. “In those instances, get out of their way. Make it as easy as possible for them to get back to the content that they know they want. But the other third of the time, they’re looking for something new.”
In those cases, Lyons said, “we actually believe in a blend of both human curation and other data to personalize that curation.”
Amazon’s Gupta also talked about the decision last year to add individual profiles to Amazon video.
“The key for us is, we want the customers to drive the experience,” he said.
The panel did not touch on the programming disputes involving HBO Max, nor did it touch on the company’s controversial decision to release Warner Brothers’ movie slate for 2021 on HBO Max, except that Lyons did say that “yes, we’re really excited about the WB slate in 2021.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.