Why HBO Is Delaying John Oliver Clips on YouTube

Liem Soeng

Why HBO Is Delaying John Oliver Clips on YouTube

Beginning with this past Sunday’s episode, its Season 11 premiere, HBO is no longer putting “Last Week Tonight” episodes next-day on YouTube.

“When ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver‘ premiered on HBO, the convenience of watching on Max did not exist so YouTube allowed flexible viewing for the main story as well as promotional exposure,” HBO said in a statement shared with IndieWire. “We are now delaying that availability and hope those fans choose to watch the entire show on Max.”

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life, and John Oliver is feeling…annoyed. The “Daily Show” alum, who has made a side hustle out of blasting his employer on TV (especially when AT&T still owned WarnerMedia), hopes HBO reconsiders its new position.

“I know I usually share a link to our main story here on Mondays, but HBO has decided they’re going to wait until Thursday to post them to YouTube from now on,” he wrote yesterday on Twitter/X. “I hope they change their mind, but until then, you can see our piece about the Supreme Court on HBO, on MAX, and on YouTube in a few days.”

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STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 11: Actress Linda Hamilton visit’s 'The IMDb Show' on October 11, 2019 in Studio City, California. This episode of 'The IMDb Show' airs on November 7, 2019. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

“Last Week Tonight” debuted in 2014 when Mike Lombardo was still president of HBO’s adult programming. Back then, there was no HBO Max, let alone Max (there was an HBO Go), and exposure was the desired currency. It was — and is — the only currency YouTube pays to HBO for “Last Week Tonight” episodes.

A quick business lesson: There is no advertising revenue when there are no ads. And “Last Week Tonight,” both on YouTube or on HBO/Max, has no ad component. You know how HBO can monetize the next-day viewing of “Last Week Tonight”? By converting its millions of weekly YouTube viewers into Max subscribers. Max with ads costs $9.99 per month; without ads, it is $15.99. For the big spenders, there is the “Ultimate” tier with Dolby sound and 4K resolution. YouTube costs exactly — checks notes — free.

At the end of September, Max and Discovery+ combined for 95.1 million streaming subscribers. (Warner Bros. Discovery does not report subscriber numbers separately.) We’ll get an update on the streaming tally on Friday, when WBD reports its fourth-quarter 2023 earnings. That is when company CEO David Zaslav will also tell the market that Max was profitable for 2023 as a whole, which he predicted back in May.

YouTube has 2-3 billion monthly active users. But clicks don’t pay down debt, and Warner Bros. Discovery still has $45.3 billion of that to get through; you may have noticed a bit of recent frugality on their end, to put it kindly. Plus, with nine years of Emmy wins in a row, HBO is thinking what we all pretty much know about “Last Week Tonight” by now — or at least we should.

The new rule about Oliver’s program is actually not all that new. While Bill Maher’s “New Rules” (and a monologue, and the “Overtime” segment) heads right to YouTube after airing on HBO and streaming on Max, his entire “Real Time” episodes do not. (Even if that sounds/feels like an entire episode.)

Oliver may refer to his next-day YouTube clips as “Last Week Tonight’s” “main story,” but let’s be real — it’s the entire episode. Aside from the Season 11 trailer, here are the (rounded) lengths for the last half-dozen “Last Week Tonight” clips on YouTube: 29 minutes; 31 minutes; 28 minutes; 32 minutes; 22 minutes; and 32 minutes. It’s a half-hour show.

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1926 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Alan Ritchson during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on Friday, February 16, 2024 -- (Photo by: Todd Owyoung/NBC)
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” (Photo by: Todd Owyoung/NBC)Todd Owyoung/NBC

It is unlikely the “Last Week Tonight” shift will change much for the rest of TV’s late-night talk shows. Most of the topical variety shows air nightly, for free, on broadcast television. NBC withholding Jimmy Fallon interviews, for example, from YouTube for a few days would be kind of pointless. The “Tonight Show” — and its audience — would have already moved on by several episodes. Same goes for Kimmel or Colbert, etc.

So watch “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on HBO and Max Sundays at 11 p.m. — or wait until Thursday on YouTube.

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