HBO’s Next Big Idea: Recommendations From Actual Humans

Hey, you. Yes, you! Are you tired of Netflix’s algorithm telling you what to watch? Does the streaming service think you enjoy Black Mirror and Friends reruns a lot more than you actually do? HBO hears you, and it has a solution: recommendations from actual people.

Recommended by Humans, launched today, is a “human-powered” recommendation tool that, instead of gleaning what you might like by looking at your viewing history and the shows beloved by people like you, scans Twitter and compiles interviews with real people to find out which HBO shows are popular and then collects them on one site where viewers can scan through and pick what they want to watch. As of today, there are more than 50 free episodes and movies—from mainstays like Game of Thrones and The Sopranos to new shows like Euphoria and A Black Lady Sketch Show—available for free through the Recommended by Humans site.

Is this a ploy by HBO to lure new viewers? Most likely yes! Does the need to do that increase now that Thrones is over and it’s trying to get people hooked before the launch of the streaming service HBO Max in spring 2020? Also, yes. Will it work? That might not really matter. Right now, the service has recommendations from only about 150 tweets and a few interviews, which doesn’t compare to the digital hive mind of an algorithm like Netflix’s, but that doesn’t mean it won’t catch a few eyeballs—or at least garner a little buzz for taking a jab at algorithmic recommendation engines.

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Recommended by Humans picks shows and movies based on tweets.Joshua Kissi/HBO

Also, it’s kind of funny. There’s something about Recommended by Humans that makes it seem as though HBO has a sense of humor about the streaming wars. Clearly a handful of tweets isn’t going to compete with the years of data a company like Netflix has, but HBO knows viewers are just as likely to find their new TV obsession while scrolling Twitter as they are thumbing through “Trending Now.” Another sign that the network is having a little fun here? The Recommended by Humans home screen, a series of click-and-drag-able Kool-Aid-colored tiles, notes as it loads, “Real recommendations from real people. We paid them for their time because we’re not monsters.”

As new competitors like Disney+ and HBO Max look to get into the streaming game, the biggest question will always be: How much is too much? At some point, people will likely cap the number of services they’re willing to drop a few dollars on each month. While massive libraries will likely keep players like Netflix and Disney+ in the fight (Netflix isn’t churning out all that content for nothin’), a service like HBO Max might be on the bubble. They’ve got high-quality programming but not quite the same amount of volume. Appealing to fans, and getting folks hooked on a few more shows now, might make a difference. And, hey, if it doesn’t, at least they’re going to have Friends.

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