Commentary

Another HBO Max Boost: WarnerMedia Acquires You.i TV Platform

It’s been an increasingly satisfying couple of months for WarnerMedia executives tired of being pelted with predictions of the early demise of the company’s now seven-month-old HBO Max streamer.

Since AT&T’s third-quarter report at the end of October, WarnerMedia has clinched deals with both Amazon and Roku, opening access to HBO Max for many millions of Fire TV and Roku device owners (with self-reported global MAUs of 50 million and 46 million, respectively) just prior to the key holiday streaming season. So that’s an end to the constant mentions of Max’s lack of distribution through those devices by analysts and the media (including yours truly).

The Amazon Fire integration, in place as of the end of November, helped drive a 4-million jump in the number of HBO subscribers who have authenticated HBO Max, to 12.6 million, in the two months between the Q3 report and the second week of December.

The Amazon and Roku distribution factors will undoubtedly continue to drive up the Max authentications — and new, non-HBO subscribers — particularly in combination with WarnerMedia’s “hybrid” movie release strategy.

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Controversial as it’s been in the industry, the company’s decision to simultaneously release “Wonder Woman 1984” and all 17 of its major movies during 2021 on HBO Max and in theaters is bound to make Max’s relatively high, much-maligned $14.99-per-month fee pretty palatable, since all subscribers will get access to those big movies at no additional charge for the first month after their releases.

That strategic move almost certainly also helped add pressure on Roku to finally come to mutually acceptable terms for Max distribution on its devices.

WarnerMedia also just announced that HBO Max is now accessible through Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex platforms—again, in time for holiday family binge-fests.

To add fuel to the fire, HBO Max is also currently offering a 20% discount on six-month subscriptions, for those willing to prepay.

Next year, of course, we'll also see a rollout of another tier of HBO Max — which is increasingly looking like it will be supported by a lower-cost consumer fee structure, in addition to advertising.

And now, in the latest boost for HBO Max — albeit a more technical one — WarnerMedia has completed its acquisition of You.i TV, an Ottawa-based provider of cross-platform development tools for TV and media companies.

The company’s You.i Engine One enterprise development platform delivers video apps across mobile, tablet, game consoles, streaming devices, set-top boxes and Smart TVs using a single codebase. That allows developers to build app features, make user experience changes once, and then deploy them across a variety of devices and operating systems, saving time and speeding delivery, according to the announcement.

Here’s the key part: You.i Engine One technology “will help rapidly deploy WarnerMedia’s HBO Max direct-to-consumer offering to a variety of platforms in markets worldwide,” reports WarnerMedia. “In 2021, HBO Max is slated to expand into Latin America, and HBO-branded streaming services in Europe will begin to be upgraded to HBO Max.”

“The You.i platform will enhance the HBO Max technology stack, increase developer efficiency, and accelerate delivery as we bring HBO Max to consumer devices all around the world,” summed up Jason Press, the company’s executive vice president of direct-to-consumer technology and program management.

WarnerMedia and other affiliates of AT&T currently use You.i TV technology to enable apps for AT&T TV Now, TNT, TBS, truTV, B/R Live, Rooster Teeth, DirecTV GO in Latin America, WarnerMedia International, and the WarnerMedia RIDE in-car entertainment experience in partnership with AT&T and General Motors.

You.i TV has been developing the You.i Engine One technology for nearly a decade. WarnerMedia has been an investor in You.i TV since 2016, and Press its board of directors in 2019.

In short, while it’s still early innings, I’m going to stick with the opinion expressed in this column just before HBO Max launched last May, as the volume of skepticism was just gaining momentum:

Given the large, existing base of HBO and HBO Go subscribers, plus “the marketing and partner resources of AT&T and WarnerMedia, and most important, HBO’s worldwide brand familiarity and reputation for quality content, I don’t really think we need worry too much about whether HBO Max can reach its goals of 50 million U.S. subscribers and 80 million global subscribers by 2025. We’re not talking Quibi here. HBO Max is riding on the shoulders of a giant entertainment brand.”

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