HBO doesn’t give anything away for free (except for those HBOGo passwords that everyone seems to be sharing) so it’s always important when they choose to let the non-paying masses in on their private world of premium content. In order to drum up an audience, and hopefully some fresh subscriptions, HBO has been toying with the idea of sampling the first episode of its new shows online. In the past they’ve relied on YouTube to host episodes of buzzy shows like Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom or Lena Dunham’s Girls, but the times they are a’changin’.
For the first time, HBO plans to bow two of its most anticipated new shows, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vehicle Ballers and Jack Black political satire The Brink, on Facebook. This is just the latest example of Facebook’s hard charge to the top of the online video heap. Though YouTube still boasts more views, Facebook has been growing exponentially since it first started offering its video services and that growth shows no sign of slowing. Many industry watchers think that Facebook might eventually overtake YouTube as the web’s preferred destination for video content.
It’s tempting to treat HBO’s choice to abandon YouTube as a sign that Facebook is winning the race, and in many ways it might be; however, this isn’t the first time HBO has had a fling with a video platform other than YouTube. Last summer they premiered The Leftovers on Yahoo Screen. It’s worth mentioning that Yahoo Screen didn’t go on to overtake YouTube, or anyone else in the online video space for that matter. Still, the fact that networks are dabbling with another competing platform at a time when YouTube is working so hard to prove itself to Hollywood is definitely a bad sign.
Facebook boasts lower view counts but a larger and more captive audience than YouTube. The site has been very effective at integrating its video player into user’s streams. Most experts believe that Facebook’s algorithms favor native video content over videos from external sources, which most likely accounts for their rapid growth. Whether they can sustain that growth, or convince popular content creators to sign on without a revenue-sharing plan remains to be seen, but it’s clear that, for some corners of the industry, just being on the rise is more prestigious than being the biggest game in town.
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