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Everything that HBO Max needs to change before it can match Netflix

HBO Max has a lot to offer, but the streaming service isn't perfect yet. Here are the changes that would help it gain traction.

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HBO Max could use just a few more features to make it worth the $15 a month price tag.

Angela Lang/CNET

HBO Max joined the streaming service wars last May, and it's already gained a lot of momentum for a new service. Together, HBO and HBO Max have 67.5 million subscribers, including 2.8 million who joined between April and June of this year, according to a report from the New York Times. However, streaming giant Netflix still casts a mighty shadow over its competitors with over 200 million subscribers -- although subscriber growth was slowing at the start of 2021.

HBO Max might have a fraction of Netflix's subscriber base, but the service has a lot to offer. One of HBO Max's big draws is that it lets you watch many of the latest theatrical releases from the comfort of your home. Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong hit the service the same day as movie theaters at no extra cost, and major titles like The Matrix 4 and Dune are on the way later this year. 

HBO Max also houses hit HBO original series like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country as well as the Studio Ghibli movies, classic sitcom Friends, South Park, Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory, a ton of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim cartoons and more.

Netflix has had over 20 years to polish its service, and its seniority makes it difficult for other streaming services to compete. Even though HBO Max's flashy service has a long way to go before it can eclipse Netflix, HBO seems willing to listen to its user base. This year, HBO Max has offered half-off discounts and added a cheaper $10 subscription tier, both of which were welcome offers. 

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There's still room for improvement on the service though. Here's a few things HBO Max could do to sharpen its edge if it wants to gain more subscribers: 

Revive the free trial

HBO Max might have given users a more budget-friendly option with it's $10 tier, but it should still bring back the free trial. Free trials give users a chance to explore a service before committing and a chance to binge a particular series or movie on that service that's piqued their interest. But HBO Max shuttered its one-week free trial ahead of the Wonder Woman 1984 release in December. 

Most streaming services offer some kind of a free trial period before you have to pay. The fact that HBO Max doesn't is a potential deterrent. It makes sense that HBO Max wouldn't want people signing up for a free trial just to watch some of the major theatrical releases coming to the platform. But if it could find a way to keep the free trial but leave off those titles, that would be a way to bring more people in without sacrificing its big draw. 

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HBO Max ended its one-week free trial when Wonder Woman 1984 arrived on the platform on the same day as theaters.

Warner Bros. Pictures & DC Comics

Land a breakout hit show

One of the bigger draws to competing services like Disney Plus are the original series, such as The Mandalorian, WandaVision, What If…? and Loki. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video also have a solid lineup of original movies and shows.

Since launch, HBO Max has built up its catalog of original titles -- several of which took home Emmy awards this year. There's been buzz around shows like Mare of Easttown, The Watchmen and Zack Snyder's Justice League director's cut, but nothing has quite entered pop culture the way Baby Yoda did. 

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Zack Snyder's Justice League, often referred to as the "Snyder Cut," is available on HBO Max.

HBO Max

Add tools for better personalization

The recommendation system found in services like Hulu and Netflix can be valuable for helping find new shows to watch. Hulu has a like/dislike button so you can "rate" the series or movie you've watched. Netflix has a thumbs up/thumbs down, and goes an extra step with curated lists based on a movie or show you watched recently. For those who get overwhelmed by too many choices, Netflix also sports a Play Something button, which will automatically surface something its algorithm thinks you'd like to watch.

HBO Max has a pretty basic More Like This feature (if you're watching Doctor Who, you can scroll down a bit and the service will recommend The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood). The service also has a "For You" category. I like most of the titles it recommends in my own For You section, but it doesn't reflect how much content I've consumed from the Turner Class Movie and Studio Ghibli sections of the service. 

The Suicide Squad 2021

You can also catch the new Suicide Squad on HBO Max.

Warner Bros

An extra layer of personalization could work in the service's favor -- especially since you weren't able to import your watch history or recommendations from HBO Now or HBO Go.

Show some love for sports fans

Sports content isn't for everyone, but more variety in a service can make it more attractive to customers. With Hulu Plus Live TV, you can watch games or tack on different sports networks, like ESPN or the Golf Channel, to your plan. Disney Plus went after sports fans shortly after launch by offering a bundle deal with Hulu and ESPN. Showtime also offers a number of sports documentaries, past MMA fights and more, while Paramount Plus has live soccer as well as some NFL games.

HBO Max has several sports movies and documentaries like Million Dollar Baby, Space Jam, We Are Marshall, and Hoop Dreams, but we've yet to see the range of content available on other services. 

In April, HBO Max reportedly struck a deal to get live sports like NHL games on the service, but it's also competing with a larger deal between the NHL and Disney-owned ESPN, and we haven't seen anything arrive on the app yet. Parent company Warner Media also owns the TNT and TBS cable networks, which carry numerous NBA basketball and MLB baseball games. Putting those on HBO Max would take more deals and won't probably happen soon, but it could go a long way toward tempting sports fans to sign up. 

Now playing: Watch this: What's new to stream for October 2021
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