All about Game of Thrones is high. Like major epics. The greatest war. The greatest cast. Most of the men fired at once. Giant sets up pieces and giants, well.
This has also been compensated in epic scores. Thrones Game is HBO’s most viewed series, and this year’s most watched TV scripted game.
How much money did game of thrones make?
The show has raised $3.1 trillion from HBO subscriptions alone, with a total show budget of $1.5 trillion. Every eight seasons of 73 episodes and 566 characters together, HBO cost a mere $30.90 per spectator.
HBO probably made record profits from this TV show as well. However, while I can relate all of the above facts, I can’t tell you whether this is the case. I guess it’s, but frankly nobody knows. That is because HBO’s closely guarded secret, just like most networks, is how much money a TV series makes. I was trying to find out if anyone had ever measured it, and they haven’t as far as I know.
Nice. Fine. Fine. Unlike Oberyn Martell battling the mountain, you have to do it yourself if you want something done right. For a major streaming company, I used to build these models and estimates, so I’ll make my own estimate. Hopefully, in the process, my head will not explode (as Red Viper did).
Some warnings before I reveal my findings. Some things were easier than others to find out. There have been many leaks on episode production costs; for instance, many fewer leaks on goods sales. I scanned the internet to find out what was revealed, what futile revenues we know, and certain other details in order to fill up the gap. Ok, if I could not work it out, I used my best estimates and only assumptions often. Though informed assumptions.
Add it to it, and I estimate for eight seasons between 2011 and 2019 (and beyond) that HBO has /will make … $2.28 billion in Game of Thrones.
That is, a profit of approximately 285 million dollars per season. This is probably one of the most popular TV series ever.
This top line number, however, tells only a few fun stories. I’ll walk through my estimated budget for the gory details. If you want to read more about the figures included in this post, check out my posts on TV through the battle between Amazon, Netflix and HBO for “the next game of thrones.”
Costs [ Updated ]
Let’s begin by finding the easiest estimates, the cost of production. Since the show began to film, HBO is proud to say that it has cost us a lot. The pilot was said to be the most expensive of all (then the “Blackwater War” in Stage 2 was the biggest fight on television. Since then, costs have been rising and rising. This is the rough cost of just making the series through Wikipedia and my research:
Table 1 Production cost of Thrones Such costs are guided by a few factors. First, the top actors are well paid. The top five actors — with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s legal documents — showed that the top talent made over 1,1 million dollars of an episode this season. Certain players are paid less—200 K$ per episode, according to some estimates — but almost as much as other lead actors get for their episodes. (For example, Westworld actors receive $250k for their highest paid stars.) Second, the gigantic battles are as enormous as I have just mentioned. It costs some serious money to employ crews, supplies and extra staff for a 55-day fight all those days. Round it off with lots of CGIs for dragons, wolves and giants, and you have one of the television shows – if not the most expensive.
Revenues from Subscriptions [ Updated ]
HBO continues offering vouchers for all the battle scenes and actors. HBO has three key channels to offer these subscriptions: in the US through cable and satellite providers, via international pay TV providers and now through HBO Now services to digitally direct customers. (It also licenses programming for other premium pay television networks, but I’ll get to it next.) This initial window offers a bulk of GoT’s interest.
GoT is obviously great for driving new subscriber growth, but it is very difficult to calculate it because calculating how much value every subscriber puts on GoT is crucial. As a consequence, the money pot is both important and probably less than you thought.
Let’s go over what we know. What we learn. Second, the increase of subscribers and earnings. From 2010 to 2010, HBO was stagnant in subscriber rise, also decreasing between 2009 and 2010. Then, in 2011, HBO came and rose to 54 million subscribers domestically (USA and Territories) from 39,4 million subscribers in 2011 to 2017. (These figures include both HBO and Cinemax subscriptions as well as streaming ones.) Internationally, Latin America, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe in particular, increases from 53 million subscribers to 88 million is equally remarkable. Digitally, in 2015, they launched HBO Now with more than five million subscribers. And during the same time, HBO’s profits rose from 4.5 billion dollars annually in 2011 to 6.3 billion dollars in 2017, including operating revenue increases of 1 trillion dollars to $2.1 trillion.
Was it a coincidence that HBO went through this growth when GoT became aware of the group? Beginning in season 1, the ratings for GoT have increased every year, and almost every episode. The table displays the live and overall viewing numbers per season using Wikipedia and news accounts.
Table 2 Thrones Ratings over time In short, 43 million people are currently watching GoT alone in the United States. Maybe more if any of these opinions are by families or communities. And not just the US. We know that this is Australia’s biggest subscription show in the UK and has grown tremendously in Canada, Italy, Russia, Singapore and many others.
It may may be tempting to conclude that all growth of HBO is due to the thrones themselves. It’s a bit too violent. There are other inappropriate ways to try to do this. (The worst is actually to subtract viewers by price every month. Read not. Read here why not.) The easiest way to do so is to classify the number of viewers that the show was responsible for (new and returning). Then, you increase the “lifetime value” of these customers to HBO.
I then used this strategy to make a bunch of projections predicting that 10 percent of new US subscribers, 5 percent of new foreign subscribers and 50 percent of new streaming subscribers are owed to Game of Thrones. I also granted GoT credit to keep existing subscribers “retained” at a cost of 2%. Using those figures and a set of other estimates — like my own projections for the expense of my customers ‘lifetime — I find my estimation of revenue per subscriber: Table 3 Game of Thrones Subscription Figures Alone I believe that over the past nine years or so Game of Thrones alone has powered $1.9 billion in subscription revenue for HBO. (And some of these benefits will last for a couple of years.)
Additional Revenue [ Updated ]
So, that’s a lot of money, but HBO doesn’t get it ripped in. DVDs and Blu-Ray discs were already a trend in the previous years of 2011. HBO made a lot of money for home television marketing the Game of Thrones. DVD releases for the first two seasons sold hundreds of thousands of units in each of the first week. And I find an estimation of where I sold almost a million copies after a year of season 1. I have also heard a report that over $1 billion in total home entertainment was sold by this show. I couldn’t hit such a high point with the decay of sales on DVD, so I put all home entertainment at about $610 million.
As I have said, HBO also sells the exhibition rights to other overseas markets. Season 1 reportedly sold internationally for $2.5 million per season. I assume the pace persisted, with a major jump over and above season 5. Overall, I agree that GoT has netted $301 million in foreign revenue for HBO.
Following that, HBO sell Game of Thrones to other TV networks fairly stingy. Even in its large library contract with Amazon, GoT was not included for $300 million a year. It is also unlikely that HBO will sell GoT in the near future to a group or anyone else. This doesn’t mean that HBO has no value as a library series, especially when the prequel will premier next year. I assume that the value of future “library” transactions will be roughly $780 million, or 125% of production cost.
Since a lot of the show is filmed in Ireland, HBO profits from some good tax cuts over the years. I have it at about 10 percent or $36 million total. Ireland said before in the first three seasons that they gave production approximately $14 million in tax credits, and I just increased that amount.
Unless you count Starbucks, HBO does not put any product in Game of Thrones.
Then there’s all the goods. Yeah, so many stuff. I found numerous papers detailing how many of the GoT products there are, but no specific sales figures could be identified. In order to fill the void, I made some comparisons based on my knowledge of adult TV products. Nonetheless, the revenue it returns to HBO will be low. As I have already written, my thumb rule is 5% of total retail sales go to the studio. In all, I believe that HBO has produced massive revenues of $2.6 billion, earning some $132 million. HBO had only a limited run for Season 4 at IMAX theaters, worth around one million dollars.
All the Other Stuff [ Updated ]
I can easily overcome any other costs and fees. Second, HBO has this series to market. Luckily, the exhibition markets themselves. HBO uses “owned and run” outlets in the first place, which means previews after shows. GoT’s largest marketing budget per season, according to the Wall Street Journal, was $20 million for season 8, up from $7 million in the past seasons. (I believed also that Season 1 had an equal publicity and launch budget of $20 million.) Instead, I applied some “fees” for my final figures. In the case of the director, they get a 3% fee off the production budget for the “packaging” of the film. Then HBO will also take a ‘distribution fee’ on any extra sales after the first window. (I’m assuming that is CAA, which is the showrunner reps). I brought it to 20%, but I might go as far as 40%. This “bill” is just an accounting device that prevents as long as possible paying talent. Finally, because this is a trade union series, HBO must pay the guilds (screen actors, writers, directors) residuals for the additional income which they receive, around 6-14 percent, according to the window.
Final Estimates [ Updated ]
Talent takes a whopping $213 million home, divided between showcase musicians, actors, George R.R. Martin and more. The agents are getting an extra $79 million. I made a profit share of 27 percent with the conventional concept of “Updated Adjusted Gross Receipts.” That number is not as big as HBO income, partially because HBO doesn’t rely instead on the first run license fee for the initial window to measure subscriber earnings.
As the title of this article says, HBO seems to have made Game of Thrones around $2.2 billion. This is about 285 million dollars per season, or even 31 million dollars per episode, numbers that have increased over time. At the time, Credit HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler had a dream to scrap the original ‘shit piece’ pilot of the show – which was estimated to cost about $5-10 million – and offer creators David Benioff and D.B. We know more time and resources to correct the sequence. It could have only been the most successful decision in the Home Box Office era.
The movie strategy Guy posts on his eponymous website under this pseudonym. A former exec of a streaming service, he chose to write e-mails / attend meetings so that he launched his own website. On Twitter or LinkedIn, you can follow him for daily thoughts and analyzes on media and entertainment industry, strategy and economics.