HBO is fighting Amazon’s "Rings of Power" with a free episode of "House of the Dragon" on YouTube

The marketing war for fantasy fiction viewers is being waged on social media.
Actors Paddy Considine and Rhys Ifans in HBO's "House of the Dragon"  
Actors Paddy Considine and Rhys Ifans in HBO's "House of the Dragon"  
Photo: Ollie Upton / HBO
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Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has finally debuted and every bit of its $465 million budget is on the screen, with fans lauding the cinematic look of the first two episodes. US audiences were able to watch the episodes early in theaters on Aug. 31, and the rest of the world was given access via Prime Video on Sept. 1.

Now, on Sept. 2, the 49-year anniversary of the death of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings books, HBO Max is attempting to dampen the show’s marketing buzz by releasing the first episode of House of the Dragon for free on YouTube.

Both shows have dragons and kingdoms, but they’re designed for different audiences

Both Rings and Dragon serve similarly fantasy-obsessed audiences, but they have different age ratings, which may end up being a factor in the scale of their success.

House of the Dragon, like the previous Game of Thrones series, is packed with adult content, and is also rated TV-MA. That rating indicates the show is “intended to be viewed by mature, adult audiences and may be unsuitable for children under 17.” So, viewers wanting to watch the free episode will need to log into YouTube to confirm their age.

Rings, meanwhile, is rated TV-14, a more child-friendly rating that warns parents the content “may be unsuitable for children under 14.”

Historically, because of its broader audience, filmed content rated as more child-friendly draws bigger audiences and more revenue than adult-restricted content. The top 10 highest-earning movies of all time are all rated either PG or PG-13 , while an R-rated film, Joker, doesn’t enter the list until number 34.

HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video hope fantasy will boost subscriber numbers

Putting House of the Dragon on YouTube is not a sign of desperation from HBO/HBO Max. Episodes one and two of the show pulled in 10 million and 10.2 million viewers when they aired on HBO and HBO Max, respectively, making the series launch over twice as successful as the original Game of Thrones premiere in 2011.

In 2020, HBO sealed a deal with YouTube TV to allow users to add HBO and HBO Max to the service for $15 a month. The free Dragon sample essentially acts as additional advertisement for the feature on the service.

The YouTube release also suggests HBO understands that some fantasy fans may not carve out time for both series. Some viewers are likely to stick with just one show. Amazon’s fantasy epic is winning critical praise from fans and critics alike, however, viewership numbers have yet to be released.

For both Amazon’s Prime Video and HBO Max, the true effectiveness of all this sword and sorcery marketing will reveal itself in how many new subscribers these shows help each company sign up.