HBO’s New Last Week Tonight YouTube Strategy Extends Beyond That Four-Day Delay

John Oliver made his displeasure known when it was revealed early last week that HBO would delay its weekly YouTube release of Last Week Tonight’s main segment from Mondays to Thursdays. “I hope they change their mind,” Oliver posted to X.

He wasn’t wrong to be concerned. Amid declining linear viewership, YouTube had become a primary distribution platform for Last Week Tonight over the last ten years, with its clips regularly accruing multiple millions of views within days. In the process, the show became part of the zeitgeist and an Emmy favorite.

HBO told the trades that the YouTube delay was intended to help boost subscriptions to its sibling streaming service, Max. But it turns out that’s not the only revenue-forward action HBO is taking when it comes to Last Week Tonight and YouTube.

When last week’s main segment on the Supreme Court ultimately did find its way to YouTube Thursday, some viewers reported that the clip included interstitial ads—a first for Last Week Tonight. That’s in addition to YouTube’s customary pre-roll ads.

Three days later, visitors to the show’s YouTube channel in some foreign territories were greeted with a special geo-targeted message from Oliver himself.

“Hi there YouTube,” Oliver cheerfully announced from his Last Week Tonight anchor desk.”I have some very good news for you—or very bad news for you depending on whether you like this show. If you live in a part of the world where someone doesn’t have exclusive rights to our show, we are now going to be distributing the entire show—the whole thing, right here, for free. The same day that we air here in the U.S.”

Like the clips posted here in the U.S., those whole episodes being made available to YouTube users in select foreign countries also contain ads. And it won’t just be new episodes. HBO plans to add all ten seasons of the show to YouTube in those countries—that’s 292 episodes and counting. 

For those who’ve followed the moves of HBO’s parent company in recent years, none of this will be surprising.

Warner Bros Discovery has been the most aggressive among its peers in its attempts to cut costs and maximize revenue. As it’s doing with Last Week Tonight on YouTube, many of the company’s efforts have focused on bringing in more advertising dollars, including introducing a lower-priced ad-supported tier on Max—and those efforts appear to be paying off.

Last week the company announced that Max ended 2023 profitable, making it the first streaming service among its legacy media peers to do so. Whether the short term gains end up chipping away at its longstanding relationships with consumers remains to be seen.

In the case of Last Week Tonight, that Supreme Court segment that was posted to YouTube on a four-day delay last week still racked up 3.5 million views, a comparable number to segments released earlier. Maybe they’re onto something. 

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