“What to Watch” on Roku, HBO Max’s future

Roku's "What to Watch" menu

This week on TechHive: Roku’s “What to Watch” menu can’t compete

When Roku announced in March that it would launch a “What to Watch” feature on its smart TVs and streaming players, it sounded like a big step forward.

While other platforms (such as Google TV and Apple TV) have tried to build universal guides to help users make sense of all their streaming services, Roku has taken a more conservative approach that emphasizes looking through each app individually. The What to Watch section was supposed to help, giving Roku’s home screen a dedicated space for recommendations from across lots of different services.

Now that this feature is finally here—you’ll find it in the Roku home screen’s left sidebar menu—it’s clear that Roku still has a long way to go. Too many of Roku’s recommendations are irrelevant and impersonal, and even worse, they feel like ham-fisted attempts to boost ad revenue rather than a way to make Roku devices more useful. Read the full column on TechHive.

Weekly rewind

HBO Max’s future: After a couple days of thinly-sourced rumors and wild speculation, Warner Bros. Discovery laid out its strategic cards for the future of HBO Max in an earnings call last night. A recap:

  • HBO Max and Discovery+ will merge into one streaming service sometime next year. We already knew this would happen, but didn’t know the timing. A new name and pricing haven’t been announced.
  • Warner will cut back on releasing new movies straight to HBO Max instead of sending them to theaters first.
  • You may also have to wait longer to stream new movies on HBO Max, as Warner looks to bring back an exclusive window for purchases and rentals.
  • Warner once again seems interested in distributing more of its content outside of HBO Max. To that end, the company plans to launch a separate, free streaming service (with ads) in the future.
  • Attempts to cut costs abound. Even before the earnings call, the company opted not to release a mostly-finished Batgirl movie and has removed several underperforming films from HBO Max for tax write-off purposes.

None of this is quite as dramatic as some rumors had suggested—heading into the earnings call, some folks were convinced that HBO Max’s death was imminent—but it does signal a shift in how Warner approaches streaming, and not necessarily for the better. As the company seeks profitability, the plan now is to create a more bloated service, probably at higher prices, while also being stingier with content.

Too bad no one saw this coming (cough) when WarnerMedia and Discovery announced their merger plans last year.

Roku’s Paramount+ pitfall: Later this month, Paramount+ will be available as a premium subscription inside The Roku Channel. That means you can sign up and watch through the Roku Channel app, and can manage your subscription through Roku as well. Both the Essentials (ad-supported) or Premium (ad-free) tiers will be available, with the latter including a live stream of your local CBS station.

Still, I would advise against subscribing to Paramount+ this way for a couple reasons: For one thing, Paramount+ remains readily available for free in one-month increments when you sign up directly through the Paramount+ website.

But also, if you subscribe through the Roku Channel, you won’t be able to use the actual Paramount+ app. That means your subscription won’t work on Android TV, Google TV, Apple TV, or any other platform where Roku doesn’t offer its own app. These “channels” offerings, while useful in theory, remain more trouble than they’re worth in practice.

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Save more money

If you missed Amazon’s Fire TV deals on Prime Day last month, they’re back at both Best Buy and Target. Personally, I’d go with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max at $35 (down from $55), but the Fire TV Stick for $17 should suffice if you have no plans to use a 4K TV anytime soon.

I don’t like Amazon’s interface as much as Google TV, Apple TV, or Roku, but it does offer powerful voice controls and a handy watchlist feature for bookmarking shows you want to watch later. See my Fire TV Stick 4K Max review for details.

Meanwhile, the Apple TV 4K is also on sale for $120, which is $11 more than its record-low price on Prime Day. It’s still a great deal on an excellent streaming player.

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