HBO is betting hundreds of millions of dollars that “House of the Dragon,” the “Game of Thrones” prequel series that premiered Sunday night, will be a massive hit.
According to a report Friday by Deadline, HBO is spending $100 million on a massive marketing push for the new show, its largest-ever marketing campaign. That’s on top of the roughly $200 million spent on the show itself, about double the budget of “Game of Thrones” seasons; Variety reported in April that each of the 10 episodes of “House of the Dragon” cost under $20 million.
In a memo to staffers last week, which was obtained by Deadline and other outlets, Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav said the “unprecedented” cross-promotional marketing campaign had already reached 130 million Americans, touting the series as “what looks to be the next big cultural moment.”
The new series takes place about 200 years before the action of “Game of Thrones,” and tells the story of a civil war that tears apart the Targaryen dynasty. Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke and Milly Alcock lead a sprawling cast, which will ultimately include 17 computer-generated dragons.
“Game of Thrones” lasted eight seasons, won 59 Emmy Awards and was HBO’s most popular show — and arguably the most popular on TV at the time — averaging 44 million viewers across all platforms in its final season. No one’s expecting those sorts of numbers for “House of the Dragon” — yet, at least.
While “Game of Thrones” ended with a thud, with an ending that disappointed many viewers, “House of the Dragon” seems to be generating excitement among many of those same fans. Early reviews from critics have been mixed, but generally positive. The series debuted Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO and HBO Max.
And in an unpleasant throwback to the “Game of Thrones” days, there was apparently enough demand from viewers to crash the HBO Max app shortly after 9 p.m., according to a number of complaints on social media.
The stakes are high for HBO, which is planning four additional live-action Westeros series and three animated ones in the coming years in an effort to create something resembling Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. “Dragons” will be the first test of that strategy.
But the big spending is also coming as the company looks to cut $3 billion in costs following the merger of AT&T’s
WarnerMedia and Discovery Inc., which was completed in April.
The media giant has recently made a number of high-profile cancellations, from the nearly completed, $90 million “Batgirl” movie to CNN’s weekly media show “Reliable Sources,” and has removed dozens of shows from HBO Max in an effort to save money on licensing and residuals payments. WBD also announced it was slashing its workforce by 14% last week.
In its earnings report earlier this month, Warner Bros. Discovery missed revenue expectations by $2 billion, though it did add 1.7 million net streaming subscribers despite inflationary pressures.
Warner Bros. Discovery shares
are down 42% year to date, while the S&P 500
is down 11% this year.