At crossroads, HBO must guard its throne

Meg James and Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The payoff is a global phenomenon that has seen its audience grow in every season, which is rare in the world of TV. HBO said the seventh season of "Game of Thrones," which was televised in 2017, was watched by an average of 32.8 million U.S. viewers across its networks and streaming platforms. That's up from 9.3 million in the first season. The series is being shown more than 150 countries.

"Game of Thrones" powered much of HBO's growth. For example, HBO Networks ended 2011 with 93 million subscribers worldwide and $4.5 billion in annual revenue, according to regulatory filings. Last year, the networks had 140 million subscribers globally and $6.6 billion in revenue. Operating income grew from $1.4 billion in 2011 to $2.4 billion in 2018.

The subscriber numbers include more than 7 million sign-ups for the HBO Now streaming service, which launched four years ago. The debut of the service was tied to the season four premiere of "Game of Thrones." Demand was so strong that the new platform had trouble handling the capacity of users when some episodes premiered.

Audience data company Parrot Analytics found that "Game of Thrones" is among the most anticipated series finale ever. By measuring social media mentions, browser searches, online views of show trailers earlier this month and downloads of pirated episodes, the Los Angeles company determined interest in "Game of Thrones" is more than 250 times in greater demand than for an average TV show.

"We are racing toward the biggest event, perhaps ever, in television history," said Samuel Stadler, Parrot's vice president of marketing. "We are talking about the world's most in-demand television show."

Some analysts think concerns about HBO's future might be overblown.

Nathanson, the analyst, noted that HBO's business didn't suffer last year when "Game of Thrones" was on hiatus, a sign that consumers are satisfied with its other offerings.

"There is just a ton of programming available on HBO, although it is not nearly the supermarket that Netflix is," Nathanson said. "Netflix has programming for 365 days a year, and that's why WarnerMedia is ramping up its programming pipeline."

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Brett Sappington, senior director at the research firm Parks Associates, said another positive sign is how HBO Now subscriptions continued to grow in 2017 -- after "Game of Thrones" finished its season.

The streaming service started the year with 2 million subscribers and finished with 5 million, even though the show's run ended in February.

"This is a show that will remain in demand for quite some time," Stadler said, noting that it will continue to live on. "When is the Harry Potter universe ever done?"

(James reported from Los Angeles and Battaglio from New York)

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times

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