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Is Winter Coming For HBO?

Game of Thrones

The show must go on. Well, not always. At least not for the Game of Thrones. The last episode of the 8th and final season will air on HBO on Sunday when diehard fans will finally find out who wins the Iron Throne in what has turned out to be a billion-dollar franchise. Fans should appreciate the $90 million budget that went into Season 8, to bring us to this breathtaking point. It also brings HBO to a point where now it has to one-up even itself with something new and equally lucrative.

The cost of putting together the Game of Thrones was record-breaking in the TV series segment. Not only did the final season cost $90 million to make, but sets in a dozen countries, massive battle scenes and special effects, including fire-breathing dragons, have run up the bill for every season, with a single episode on Season 6 costing some $10 million to produce.

Likewise, one episode in Season 8, Blackwater, cost $8 million to produce, thanks to a major battle scene and a full-sized replica of a 14th-century battleship.

Did this massive investment pay off? All added up, the Game of Thrones cost HBO over $560 million.

You have to spend money to make money, and HBO is doing just that. It relies on monthly subscriptions for cable and streaming and, according to Ars Technica, HBO made a profit of $6 billion between 2015 and 2018.

But breaking down the quarterlies is a bit tricker. In Q4 2018, HBO showed total revenue at a flat $1.7 billion, with operating income having jumped by $138 million to $622 million. But for the full-year, HBO saw a 6-percent uptick in subscription revenue. Digital subscriptions alone gained 37 percent in 2018, topping 7 million subscribers. Today, digital accounts for 20 percent of HBO’s total subscription revenue.

Certainly, much of that is because of the wildly popular Game of Thrones. But still, HBO saw revenue decline by 7% in the first quarter of this year to $1.5 billion, though this is largely thought to be a reflection of its dispute with Dish Network.

The bigger question is what HBO is going to do to pick up where Game of Thrones leaves off. Now that the show is almost over, there are concerns that subscribers might leave.

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According to a THR/Morning Consult poll from March, among more than 2,000 adults, 28 percent canceled a subscription to a streaming service after the show they liked stopped airing.

Game of Thrones is the most-watched show in HBO's history, stealing the title from The Sopranos, which was the first real darling of premium cable network history. Game of Thrones premiered in 2011 and peaked in 2015 when it boasted the most Primetime awards ever.

Whether the last scene of the last episode of Game of Thrones ends with definitive certainty or leaves viewers wondering will be the hint for what HBO is planning next--a spinoff that will tease subscribers into sticking around for more of the same to live through vicariously … or not. We’ll find out Sunday.

Whatever it is, it’s going to have to spend big to keep making big because at this point, the streaming contest is a Game of Thrones itself.

By Josh Owens for Safehaven.com

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