HBO Max Launches Alexa Voice Discovery Feature

HBO Max has launched the “HBO Max Recommends” skill for Amazon Alexa, an interactive voice discovery feature allowing users to quickly browse titles from the HBO Max catalog.

Available on Alexa-enabled devices, “HBO Max Recommends” is “a solution for users looking for something great to watch and who would like a little guidance from HBO Max and Alexa,” according to HBO Max.

To build personalized watchlists, users begin by saying, “Alexa, open HBO Max Recommends” followed by answering a series of verbal yes or no questions. They can filter recommendations by genre or ask for show descriptions, character lists and other information for hundreds of select titles.

“HBO Max Recommends” also has a multiplayer mode that interacts with up to three co-viewers, curating a list of recommendations that satisfy all members of the group. Once a session is complete, HBO Max Recommends will text them their list with links to stream the content on HBO Max.

“HBO Max continues to build on its mission of providing fun and interactive experiences to fans with their skill ‘HBO Max Recommends,’” Jason Mulderig, SVP of brand marketing for HBO Max and HBO, said in a statement. “Working with Amazon and adding this additional avenue of content discovery is another way we’re enhancing our customers’ overall viewing experience.”

The “HBO Max Recommends” skill for Alexa will also include “Spotlight Sessions,” a human-curated list of 10 titles related to current and upcoming holidays, events, anniversaries and premieres. The feature will launch in June.

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“We are so proud to work with HBO Max to launch the ‘HBO Max Recommends’ skill for Alexa and reach HBO Max users — and their family and friends — with a simplified, fun and satisfying journey as they decide what to stream from HBO Max’s premier catalog,” Steve Bernstein, director of Alexa Skills at Amazon, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing how fans respond to and engage with this new offering with HBO Max Recommends as their guide.”

“HBO Max Recommends” was developed in partnership with Skilled Creative.

HBO Max is scheduled to launch an ad-supported subscription tier and to begin its global expansion across 39 territories in Latin America next month.

Netflix Testing ‘Shuffle Play’ Streaming Feature

With more than 193 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix believes some subs might not know what to watch next. The SVOD pioneer who first championed content recommendation software more than 14 years ago has begun testing a “shuffle play” feature that automatically selects content for subscribers.

Similar to shuffle play options on music streaming platforms, the streaming option — first launched in July — selects content based on a subscriber’s most-recent viewing patterns.

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“We’re always looking for better ways to connect members with shows and films that they will love,” Netflix said in a media statement. “We run these tests in different countries and for different periods of time — and only make them broadly available if people find them useful.”

In October 2006, Netflix, which was still a by-mail DVD movie rental service, announced “The Netflix Prize,” a one-time competition that awarded $1 million to anyone who could make Netflix’s nascent content recommendation software 10% more accurate.

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Despite myriad entries and collaborative efforts, it took more than two years for a winning team of computer programmers to achieve the goal. On Sept. 21, 2009, the 1 million cash prize was awarded to the “BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos” team, which topped Netflix’s algorithm by 10.06%.

“It’s been quite a drama,” Neil Hunt, then Netflix’s chief product officer, said at the at the awards ceremony. “There was this long [time] period where they were barely making progress, and we were thinking, ‘maybe this will never be won.'”

Netflix Testing Video Ads for Original Content

Netflix reportedly has begun testing streaming video ads of original content to select subscribers. The ads appear during binging sessions and other content viewing.

“We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster,” Netflix said in a statement first reported by ArsTechnica.com.

The world’s largest SVOD service – along with Amazon Prime Video – has shunned running advertising or any kind – a stance it says it would continue as the video spots are not for third-party content or products.

Hulu has run third-party and house ads since launching in 2007. The service co-owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WarnerMedia also offers an ad-free option at a premium price.

Netflix said the house ads can be skipped and underscore its desire to expedite a user’s streaming experience with recommended content suggestions based on user data.

Indeed, users to the Netflix home page are now subjected to video previews when hovering the cursor on a particular program or movie.

“We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster,” said Netflix.

Response on social media to the test ads appeared largely negative, with many comments falsely suggesting Netflix would begin marketing products and services to subscribers.

“Autoplay anything makes me more likely to choose a competitor, or just shut the TV off and do something else,” wrote one subscriber on Reddit.com.

Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, doubts Netflix would pursue third-party ads going forward. The analyst contends the ads could be a way to enhance the service’s longstanding “personalization algorithm.”

“They are too far down the rabbit hole to spring commercials on their customers,” said Pachter. “I think it will be poorly received and subscribers will complain.”