Like an army assembling troops for an epic conquest, HBO is building its Seattle engineering team to prepare for the 2020 launch of its HBO Max streaming service — albeit without the assistance of dragons, at least not in the flesh.
“Game of Thrones” is among a large slate of existing and new titles expected to draw users to HBO Max, but as with many things these days, the engineers hold the fate of this mission in their hands, as HBO’s hiring plans make clear.
The company has posted dozens of job openings for HBO Max development at its existing Seattle tech hub in just the past week, in areas including platform engineering, content discovery, data pipeline, core media engineering and many other technical specialties. Development work on HBO Max will also take place in New York and Atlanta.
Seattle is now a key tech center for both HBO Now and HBO Go. LinkedIn currently shows nearly 200 HBO employees in the Seattle region, many of them in technical roles. The company declined to comment or confirm that number but said the Seattle engineering center will double in size in the next year.
HBO’s parent, WarnerMedia, now part of telecom giant ATT, last week announced plans to launch the $15/month HBO Max service in May 2020, challenging Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Apple and other streaming services in the process.
“It’s one of those career-defining moments for all the people that are working on it,” said Jason Press, WarnerMedia executive vice president for Direct-To-Consumer Engineering and Program Management. “We’re building out the next generation of capabilities, technologies and services to support our distribution partners, as well as our consumers, to deliver a fantastic set of content that hasn’t really been collected together previously.”
It’s also a chance for redemption for HBO’s Seattle engineering center.
HBO’s Seattle tech hub dates back to 2012, initially serving as a key center for early work on the HBO Go streaming service. Two years later, amid reports of internal squabbles at the office, the company backed away from internal work and opted to license third-party technology to power the HBO Go platform, before returning to expansion mode in 2015 in advance of the separate HBO Now launch.
Press, who joined WarnerMedia in June from Comcast, where he was senior vice president of product development, video engineering and operations, said he wasn’t in a position to comment on lessons learned from office’s early challenges. However, he called the current team one of the best he has worked with, pointing to the technical accomplishment of streaming the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
“The simultaneous usage of Game of Thrones was astounding,” Press said. “It was bigger than some of even the large Super Bowl events that occurred previously. That’s the same very talented team that is working on HBO Max.”
HBO is one of nearly 130 out-of-town companies that have established engineering outposts in the Seattle area. It’s also one of several high-profile media and entertainment companies to do so, including other well-known brands such as Hulu and Disney. The Seattle region has strong roots in media and interactive entertainment, including a large number of video game studios as well as Amazon Prime Video streaming initiatives.
One key factor is the presence of major public cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, for tech collaboration and also for recruiting.
Asked about public cloud partnerships, Press declined to go into detail on plans to work with any specific cloud provider for HBO Max. ATT this year signed a long-term deal with Microsoft Azure, but a job post for an HBO Max datacenter engineer indicates that Amazon is currently in the mix, noting that the role would help “manage and support both a large on-premise lab and the AWS and local systems that support it.”
HBO Max’s $15/month price is at the high end of the range for streaming services, but WarnerMedia is betting that its exclusive library of new and archival content — everything from “South Park” and Anthony Bourdain to new Looney Tunes episodes and the next Mindy Kaling series — will help it stand out against its competitors.
Updated at 10:30 a.m. with more details on growth plans.