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19 August 2021

AT&T’s You.i TV finally bears fruit as HBO Max gets CTV app overhaul

Confronted with hordes of torch-bearing consumers sick to the teeth of buffering and log-in issues, HBO Max is finally facing up to its video QoE woes as WarnerMedia is promising to switch out every single connected TV app over the next four or five months. That’s great news, unless you are one of several million subscribers not streaming HBO Max on CTV devices.

From a technology perspective, the HBO Max upgrade pledge will finally allow the You.i TV technology to reach its full potential – and about time too after AT&T completed the $100 million acquisition of the Canadian UX engineering expert in December 2020.

While WarnerMedia executives have spent more time making excuses than changes, it is true that most problems can be traced back to the way the current HBO Max platform has been bolted on top of old versions of HBO Go and HBO Now services. An accumulation of cursed business decisions have snowballed into a car crash of inter-departmental confusion and branding chaos that we said from the beginning would inevitably come back to bite AT&T further down the line.

The attempt by WarnerMedia to gently nudge HBO Go and HBO Now users over to HBO Max to cushion HBO churn has frustrated much of the traditional user base and hindered it from a technological point of view too. HBO Go and HBO Now were decent applications for their time, but ultimately these foundations have proven unfit for the international Netflix-chasing ambitions of HBO Max.

Speaking anonymously to news outlet Vulture, a WarnerMedia executive admitted the main concern of HBO engineers during the height of viewing on these previous HBO streaming services was ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of concurrent Game of Thrones viewers on a Sunday night didn’t crash the platform. The exec describes this as a solid platform built for scale, while simultaneously admitting that scale has taken on any entirely new meaning under HBO Max, not only in sheer size but in being dispersed the world over. In other words, WarnerMedia has been scrambling to transform the existing platform into the internationally scalable beast that it needs, when it should have started from scratch at the very beginning of the HBO Max venture.

Playing captain hindsight is easy, so let’s look at the rescue plan. Built from the ground up, Roku device users will be first to experience the revamped HBO Max in the coming months, followed by PlayStation users, while Apple TV will come later this year. Mobile and web-based apps will then follow in early 2022, according to the source.

“It will work better across the board,” Vulture was informed. Initially, the UX won’t look much different, but will apparently deliver a much more stable experience, eventually allowing HBO Max to introduce new features and UI changes for a “sexier” interface, once the unavoidable early bugs are stamped out.

Under the hood, the transformation will be driven by You.i TV’s Engine One technology, which rose to prominence in the community by recognizing the demand for dedicated video streaming app development tools without overreliance on major OS platforms. A key decision by You.i TV was when it embraced the Facebook-built open source React Native development framework to embrace a new unified app strategy – allowing developers to configure applications to retrieve all UX elements dynamically from a server, including layout, styling, and motion, without requiring recertification.

While others have followed stringent rules laid out by Google and Apple to the letter, You.i TV has prospered from a heavy GPU-focused approach involving smooth graphics performance at 60 fps and a fluid screen-rendered UI to suit video applications, with a design workflow allowing production app changes in just 5 minutes.

Engine 6.0, the latest version launched last year, includes React Native 0.60, which in turn comes with React 16.8 and the new Hooks API – a set of functions designed to hook directly into mechanisms like exposing side effects, state, and content to better capture the semantics of the React system.

As a result, You.i TV’s core software has become a popular choice for CTV and smart TV app development, even licensing Engine One 6.0 to back-end video technology vendors such as MediaKind – proof of its flexibility.

So, that all bodes rather well for HBO Max’s overdue app revamp, which has clearly been a work in progress since early this year, but has not come soon enough to spare WarnerMedia’s blushes.

As well as the underlying historic platform problems, HBO Max’s user complaints (which we covered recently in a handy objective manner) can be correlated more recently with the expansion into 39 new countries earlier this year, around the same time it introduced a new $10 ad-supported tier in June. Naturally, international expansion requires a lot of engineering work to ensure scale, as well as workloads such as adding heaps of subtitles to your content portfolio, which creates additional bandwidth that HBO Max and the network operators in these territories were evidently not prepared for.

As well as subtitles, the anonymous WarnerMedia executive cited the injection of ads into the HBO Max on-demand database as being too much to handle for the legacy platform. Adding an ad-supported tier required a whole new layer of coding, which was rushed to market without being rigorously tested, meaning bugs crept into the codebase.

Content may be king, but what are kings without an impenetrable kingdom?