HBO CTO Otto Berkes Resigns After Network Enlists MLB to Build OTT Platform

HBO's Michael Lombardo Addresses TCA

HBO chief technology officer Otto Berkes is exiting after the premium cable network decided to enlist Major League Baseball Advanced Media to build its over-the-top streaming service instead of developing it inhouse.

This fall, HBO said it would launch a standalone OTT service in 2015. It has been aiming for an April debut — timed for the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” — although that is subject to change, according to a source familiar with the plans.

HBO’s move to enlist MLBAM to build its OTT infrastructure and the April target launch date were previously reported by Fortune.

Berkes announced his resignation Tuesday in a memo to HBO staff, a copy of which was obtained by Variety.

“Recently HBO’s management decided to partner with a third party to assist HBO in bringing our OTT service to market in 2015,” Berkes wrote. “This is a change in direction from what I planned with HBO and the approach will not utilize my overall capabilities. Therefore, I feel that this is the right time for me to move on from HBO so that I am able to fully pursue my passion building world-class technology teams, products and businesses.”

Berkes, one of the original creators of Microsoft’s Xbox, joined HBO in 2011 as senior VP of digital products, leading development of HBO Go and the cabler’s other consumer technologies. In 2012, he was promoted to CTO, replacing longtime technology chief Bob Zitter.

HBO decided to go with MLBAM based on its past expertise in streaming media. MLBAM, in addition to operating the MLB.tv subscription streaming service for out-of-market baseball games, also powers the streaming infrastructure of WWE Network and has worked with CBS Sportsline’s March Madness on Demand service and ESPN’s WatchESPN service.

Earlier this year, the HBO Go service suffered critical outages during the finale of “True Detective” and the “Game of Thrones” season four premiere.

Under Berkes, HBO had been developing a streaming-video platform with the code-name “Maui” designed for the OTT service. But the Maui system was a “less-than-perfect solution” and the project was shut down, according to a memo sent to team members by Mark Thomas, senior VP of technology program management, and Drew Angeloff, senior VP of digital products. The memo was previously published by Fortune.

“This was not a judgment of the team’s work quality or deliverables but rather a bet that an existing streaming service could deliver the needed product faster and at lower risk than Maui,” Thomas and Angeloff wrote in the memo.

The execs added that “Maui’s timeframe caused us to make concessions both in scope and culture. We look forward to returning to teams defining scope, and consumer experiences, without forced top-down scheduling.” Meanwhile, a “large portion” of Maui can be repurposed for HBO Go, according to the memo.

In a statement, an HBO rep said that the Maui project “was one of several options on the table to accomplish the undertaking of offering a standalone HBO product for next year. It is not uncommon to use outside resources in this type of project. This in no way impacts our plans and we’re excited to bring an over-the-top HBO product to market next year.”

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  1. Insider says:

    Lets pull the band-aid off this already. Otto, Drew and Mark got fired for not delivering anything and making a mess of HBO IT.

  2. GoodChoice says:

    MLBAM has an incredible team. Good choice by HBO. Why not work with them instead of quitting? I smell massive ego.

  3. WatchingTheDownfall says:

    HBO is a sickly pale shadow of what it used to be. Corporate greed and outsourcing has taken over. It used to be a very desired, sought after place to work. Sadly today, it has very little regard for the social welfare of it its employees, with its main focus now to pursue profit at ALL costs.

  4. Pierre Edelman says:

    from Pierre Edelman : HBO was the future of great Television. Today it joined the immense family of BAD TV. Outsourcing is a world deadly disease (see CIA) . Everything great comes from a core group inside any company. HBO is no more a challenge to Netflix and all the other major players mushrooming on the web. Gone with the wind.

  5. Steve E says:

    HBO is no longer a highly desired place to work. All management cares is to cater to stockholders. So much has been taken away it is disgusting. Pretty soon the entire operation will be outsourced and all there will be is a few SVP’s rolling in even more money than they currently are.

    • Citizen says:

      Wrong. HBO is still a highly desired place to work. HR has no shortage of resumes from people looking to get in the door. The company has changed but has remained true to its core mission. Yes, we have a corporate parent to get along with and can’t do everything our own way but those counting HBO out really do NOT understand the business.

      • Citizenfive says:

        Actually, you’re both right. People will still apply to HBO because 1) the network remains a principle leader in producing excellent programming and 2) applicants unfamiliar with its internal operations assume the quality of the work environment is as good as said programming. The problem is that management leverages the network’s prestige to justify the systemic acceptance of a work/life balance that tips entirely towards the former. Unless you enter as an Exec, what you’re most likely in for are ridiculous workloads, severely long hours, zero mentoring, zero upward mobility, average pay, a sluggish/inexperienced bureaucracy (with a compulsion to invent as many unnecessary VP roles as possible), little inter-departmental communication/cooperation, constant out-sourcing, and rampant favoritism. I’m not suggesting that people don’t apply – at the very least it’ll look great on your resume either way, as I’m sure listing Harvard as your alma mater would be – but don’t stop looking for positions elsewhere. The reality is there are plenty of other companies/networks that have closed the gap in programming quality and actually do value your life out of the office. HBO’s problem isn’t in acquiring staff, it’s in retaining them.

  6. Old HBO'er says:

    Just want to be the first to say, good riddance to Otto. He and his Microsoft team destroyed a once incredible technology team. That is a world-class accomplishment.

    • Wired for Wisdom says:

      @Citizenfive I could not have said more accurately and more eloquently. Unfortunately, it’s just us shmucks down here who “know” that all too well and just have to suck-it-up and dream of a land where the people who have created Corporate America is not siphoning all the creativity out of everyone and turning us all into stupefied conformist robots. Those who disagree either like being robots (false sense of security) or are the executives making all the muhlah.

    • SJ (@sjaay) says:

      Genuine question: Before he joined did HBO even have a “technology team”? I can’t remember them having any kind of streaming service.

      • @sjaay HBO always had technology team, and we developed the award-winning HBO GO streaming product in-house long prior to Otto’s reign. Yes, it needed to graduate and evolve, but sadly it didn’t from 2011 forward.

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