HBO and the Perils of Change

Last Monday, I fired up the HBO Max app on my Apple TV to catch the finale of Succession and groaned.

HBO Max (formerly known as HBO Go formerly known as HBO) is rebranding again and they told me that to further engage their content (for $19.99 a month) I needed to download their new app called Max.  There was a heavy sigh because I don’t have the patience to do that and find these moves perilous.  I had no choice so I signed into the app store (what’s my password again?), downloaded the new app, had to reauthorize its use with my TV provider, and then enter a six-digit code on another device to make it work.  That’s lots of work to watch a TV show.  Prayers were said and the app worked.  But the process made me wish HBO were owned by Waystar Royco, with Kendall as CEO, because I know he wouldn’t make it so hard.

We can talk in another Planet Reynolds about the constant re-branding by HBO.  I’d always thought that the value of HBO’s programming over the years was in those three letters H-B-and-O and am not really sure what “Max” means.  But that’s for another time.  What I’m reminded is that change is fraught with peril.  Which is why I sighed again getting an email from them, suggesting I “find my way around the app to find everything.”  I have no time to learn a new app.  They’re making me work for it.  And no one likes that.

Change at your radio station, and more specifically, change on your morning show is a high wire act.  Some shows tell me they want to move their benchmarks around to “keep them fresh” or “let a different audience hear them”.  I always push back on that.  Because listeners/consumers/all humans hate change.  We sometimes have ideas with layers and nuance and make the audience work for it, which they won’t.  It’s easier to tune out, then to figure it out.  That’s for all of us when we are faced with change in anything.

We crave familiarity and routine when we wake up.  That good predictability and structure makes it easy to listen.

Think about it like this:  when you get out of bed each morning, you do the same thing in the same order every day.  I get up, I head to the bathroom, let the dogs out, then turn on the coffee, etcetera.  When you leave your house, you take the same exact route to work every day, despite being able to get to the studios dozens of ways from your home.  That routine wakes you up.  Predictability, familiarity, and structure!

I am looking at new cars.  The biggest downside in my decision?  I’ll need to learn where all the buttons are to do everything again.  It’ll be frustrating and is a vote to not do it because it’s taxiing and unnerving.  Change rattles us.  Which is why we keep gravitating back to what we know, even if it ain’t the best.  I know where to find my content on the (now defunct) HBO Max app.  I don’t on their new one.  Why did they make that change and why is it on me to learn it?

Benchmarks and known, familiar talent bring that to your listeners.  If done well, that’s another familiar item in the routine of your fans.  That structure plays in your favor.  Same for content – I have launched many shows over the years and my advice is always the same.  The audience pushes back at change so our ratings might go down.  So, play familiar music, choose the most familiar topics, and tell stories to introduce yourself to the audience so that that familiarity transfers to you.  For tenured shows, follow the same path and play inside that known topic which brings good unpredictability to the dynamic.

HBO Max, or whatever they’re calling themselves now, and their new app, makes it harder on those of us to find their content.  Thanks for the email, Max, suggesting I spend time learning your new app.  While that won’t happen, I guarantee when I fire it up next, looking for a show or movie I want to watch, there’ll be lots of profanity in the house, and the dogs will run and hide, as I endlessly scroll looking for it, because HBO changed things.

We know what we like and always seek what’s familiar.  Be careful before you thrust change into listeners’ lives.  Unless you’re patient, it could work against you and create an opportunity for a competitor to seize your spot.

Play to becoming familiar. Known, trusted brands tend to own the category and be epic.