NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - “Game of Thrones” entered its final season on Sunday. Five episodes of the fantasy TV show from now, both viewers and broadcaster HBO will have a dragon-shaped hole to fill. The network has weathered successful finales before. This time it has additional challenges.
The series based on the novels by George R.R. Martin began airing in 2011 and can be distilled down to a fairly simple concept: A set of families plot to seize the throne, while a growing gaggle of blue-eyed zombies scheme to take over the world. To say it’s a hit is an understatement – the network said on Monday the season eight premiere drew a record 17.4 million U.S. TV viewers.
HBO has survived cliffhangers before. A dozen years ago, New Jersey mobster drama “The Sopranos” was king of the network when it stopped airing. Its time-slot successor, “John from Cincinnati,” flatlined. Yet subscriptions – which matter more than ratings because they represent revenue that viewers pay regardless of what they watch – held up. In time “Game of Thrones” came along.
A few things are different now. For one, HBO is operating under new owner AT&T, which leveraged itself to the hilt to buy the network’s parent Time Warner last year. The $235 billion telecom group may blanch at big budgets. And two cash-rich rivals are turning the screws. Amazon is set to create five seasons of “The Lord of the Rings” and will spend up to $1 billion, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Netflix is spending multiples of that each year.
HBO still has other series in the works, including the superhero-themed “Watchmen.” WarnerMedia Entertainment Chair Bob Greenblatt told Deadline on Monday there is even a prequel of GOT in production, albeit at pilot stage. It shows how reluctant the broadcaster is to relax its grip on the industry’s iron throne.
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