Why Is the Game of Thrones Spinoff Series So ‘Cheap’ to Produce?
HBO manages to keep the budget of its flagship program far lower than its major competitors.
Netflix announced last week that it had lost subscribers in a quarter for the first time in years, adding that it would lose even more in the next quarter. There has been much discussion about what exactly happened to get Netflix to this point, and part of that discussion has involved the massive amount of money Netflix has been spending on movies and shows over the last few years. In fact, Netflix has already announced cost-cutting measures, including the cancellation of some animated shows.
Meanwhile, there’s a report that one of the year’s most anticipated new shows, on another streaming service, will cost less than previously thought. Variety reported last week that House of the Dragon, the upcoming prequel to Game of Thrones that’s set to debut on HBO and HBO Max later this year, will cost less than $20 million per episode. Of course, $20 million would still be a respectable budget for most feature films. Game of Thrones cost about $15 million per episode by its last season.
House of the Dragon is more than that, but not considerably more. And Netflix’s Stranger Things is expected to cost $30 million an episode for its next season, while Amazon is reportedly paying $465 million for the eight-episode first season of its new Lord of the Rings TV series, which debuts shortly after House of the Dragon.
How did HBO keep costs down? According to the report, which cited a production insider, “HBO is now so adept at these world-building series … that the team can make a high-quality series as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
There are other reasons for the cost of the show. House of the Dragon does not have any huge stars who will command large per-episode paychecks, nor does it involve big-name showrunners. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who ran Game of Thrones for its entire run, are not involved with the new show. Instead, they took a major deal from Netflix, and have several projects in development at the streaming service.
Game of Thrones became more expensive as time went on due to rising actor salaries and more ambitious special effects. In the earlier seasons of the show, large, fire-breathing dragons weren’t part of the equation as much as they would be later, while major battle sequences sometimes took place off-camera.
House of the Dragon will debut on HBO and HBO Max on August 21.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.