In the streaming world, a war of succession is heating up, and I’m not talking about the one that involves the Roy family. This particular conflict is being waged in the realms of epic fantasy: Which big-budget series will become the cultural and critical successor to Game of Thrones?
There are two main claimants to this throne. One is HBO’s actual-factual Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon. The prequel series aired its first episode on August 21. HBO often supports its new and returning shows by bringing their premiere episodes to YouTube, but the premium programmer didn’t immediately choose that course of action for House of the Dragon. It took until September 2 before the tale of the Targaryens was made available for free on the HBO YouTube channel.
The House of the Dragon premiere is not available as an embedded video, but you can watch it by clicking here.
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Giving fans a free taste of a long-anticipated series can be a good tactic for a streamer looking to drive subscriptions. So why did HBO wait nearly two weeks before applying that strategy to House of the Dragon? The answer has everything to do with Amazon‘s entrant in the Thrones war of succession: The Rings of Power.
Since the earliest days of its development, the new Lord of the Rings adaptation has been positioned as a potential Game of Thrones killer (or should I say Kingslayer?) The big-budget series is so crucial to Amazon’s strategy that Jeff Bezos reportedly stepped into the rights negotiations himself back in 2017.
After more than five years in development, The Rings of Power finally premiered on September 2 — the same day as House of the Dragon‘s arrival on YouTube. In what was clearly a calculated move, HBO timed the hype machine for its epic fantasy series in order to take some of the shine away from Amazon’s epic fantasy series.
Both shows have drawn positive reactions from critics, though some user reviewers have different ideas. As far as the streaming industry is concerned, the release schedule chess match between HBO and Amazon is more interesting than the actual quality of the shows themselves. HBO’s attempt to undermine The Rings of Power reveals a new tactic for streamers: They can spend big in hopes of award season recognition, assemble a massive “long tail” of content, and attempt to sap any big bets made by their rivals.
Consider this: Earlier this year, Netflix encountered concerning viewership trends. It was able to paint a more upbeat picture in the second quarter of the year, when its buzziest tentpole series — Stranger Things — returned for its fourth season. What if HBO had blunted that impact by timing House of the Dragon‘s release for earlier in the summer? Would Stranger Things still have been able to rule that cultural moment, or would TikTok users have gotten distracted by all the dragons and blond hair?
Streamers, like the dynasty at the center of House of the Dragon, are currently in a shaky position. Due to a highly saturated and competitive market, subscribers are becoming harder to acquire. To keep up, the HBOs and Amazons of the world are spending freely — but they’re also doing what they can to stop any competing show from becoming the next big thing.