If you’re like millions of people around the world, you’ll be tuning in for the final season of “Game of Thrones” (GoT) this month.
Fans of the series have been watching the growing threat of the White Walkers as the battle for the Iron Throne heats up. Will Daenerys and Jon Snow prevail with their dragon glass against the Night King and his zombie army? Can Arya and Sansa continue to collaborate without killing each other? Will Cersei consolidate power in King’s Landing?
While we ponder those very important questions, here’s something else to keep in mind: “Game of Thrones” is a huge money maker for HBO and its former parent company Time Warner, acquired by AT&T for $85 billion in 2018. Not only is GoT the most-watched show in HBO history, but the GoT franchise is also worth over $1 billion, commanding nearly 30 million viewers per episode in the U.S. alone, according to the New York Times.
And viewership for season eight is expected to be more massive than the Wall—in no small part because HBO shelled out a staggering $15 million per episode for the six-part series, each episode the length of a feature film.
How does HBO make money?
HBO doesn’t rely on advertising, the way traditional television networks do. Instead, it depends on people paying $10 to $15 a month for cable and streaming subscriptions. Does that work? It seems so. HBO produced profits of $6 billion between 2015 and 2018, according to reports.
(HBO also spends billions of dollars each year, working with top producers to create cutting edge content, which helps it to add subscribers. In fact, in 2018, HBO broke its own record for new subscribers in 2017.)
Since HBO doesn’t use the traditional advertising model, it’s less concerned about what it makes when a new episode first airs. It’s more about how much it makes all year, and the year after that, even with the hugely popular Game of Thrones.
The ‘Game of Thrones’ effect
Just the same, “Game of Thrones” is a huge part of HBO’s most recent success.
In 2014, GoT surpassed “The Sopranos”, HBO’s hit mafia-inspired show, as the network’s most popular series. And between subscriptions, merchandising, and the international market, “Game of Thrones” makes a significant contribution to HBO’s revenue.
In fact, over the decade, it has helped HBO add an impressive 50 million subscribers, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Although the number of viewers of a series like “Game of Thrones” can start to resemble major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, there are some important differences.
Unlike the Super Bowl, “Game of Thrones” isn’t necessarily meant to be consumed on a single night. If you miss the big game, you miss it—you know who’s won, and your family and friends have already eaten the guacamole.
GoT is a cultural phenomenon, and viewership can extend from its peak on Sunday evenings in North America, to other time zones around the world—regardless of spoilers.
And for HBO, it’s not about when you watch #GOT, it’s just about watching—now, or years from now. So, while Sunday night’s ‘Game of Thrones’ might not be raking in the dollars based on viewership alone in the way that traditional network TV events do, it contributes to HBO’s bottom line.