Season 5 of Game of Thrones starts this Sunday, and HBO’s most popular television series ever has an ever-growing economic effect.
Last year’s Season 4 finale pulled in monster ratings, when it attracted 7.1 million live viewers, and a 9.3 million overall audience, including re-broadcasts.
Game of Thrones’ most recent season also averaged 6.8 million viewers per episode, according to the Hollywood Reporter, a 37 percent increase from Season 3.
For those not familiar with the story, HBO’s top show is based on the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” written by George R.R. Martin. Five books have been released so far. The latest is “A Dance with Dragons,” and Martin (who has written for the show) says the sixth installment should be finished by 2016.
As Sunday’s premiere approaches, we decided to analyze all the ways in which Game of Thrones has an economic impact.
Impact On Tourism Abroad
Croatia’s economy has been struggling since the global recession hit in 2008, but now its receiving an unexpected economic boost: Game of Thrones tourism.
King’s Landing — the fictional capital of the kingdom where a majority of the show takes place — is filmed in Dubrovnik, a Croatian city that sits along the Adriatic coast and is filled with imposing medieval structures, Bloomberg writes. Before HBO came knocking, the coastal city was already Croatia’s top tourist destination, but now even more visitors are flocking to the area.
Andro Vlahusic, Dubrovnik’s mayor, told Bloomberg his city’s tourism is growing by 10 percent per year and suspects that Game of Thrones can be attributed to half of that growth.
Although Vlahusic says tourism from the show has added $10 million to Dubrovnik’s economy, he’s more excited about the publicity and appeal it’s created for his area.
Spain and Northern Ireland are also experiencing big boosts from the show. Parts of Season 5 were shot in the Spanish cities Seville and Osuna, and both have already experienced a 15 percent boost in tourism, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Northern Ireland, where multiple settings for the show have been shot, including one location in Belfast, anticipates so much Game of Thrones tourism that it launched a $300,000 publicity campaign last April. It used the show’s logo on Twitter and Facebook, and reached 100 million people, the Daily Mail writes.
Croatia, Spain and Northern Ireland all hope Game of Thrones does what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand — create hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism and business value. (The Guardian says the trilogy is worth an estimated $500 million to the Kiwi economy.)
HBO’s new standalone streaming service launched on Tuesday, just in time for Game of Thrones’ premiere.
HBO Now will cost subscribers $14.99 a month with a 30-day free trial, and any Apple product owners and Optimum broadband users can access it. In an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, HBO CEO Richard Plepler called his company’s new service a “millennial missile,” and hopes it will entice the 10 to 11 million broadband-only homes in America to subscribe.
The company is receiving assistance from MLB Advanced Media, hailed as the “King of Live Streaming Media” by Forbes, as well as Apple for its launch, but Plepler says he expects “bumps in the road” especially with millions tuning in for Game of Thrones’ upcoming premiere.
Combating Digital Piracy
Game of Thrones is the world’s most pirated television show. HBO is trying to change that by airing the Season 5 premiere simultaneously around the globe.
In countries like Australia, popular American TV shows can be delayed for weeks or even months, Quartz writes, which has inevitably led to a burgeoning illegal downloading and streaming culture that pulls down ratings.
In the past, HBO has indicated it is not too worried about piracy. Time Warner owns the network and its CEO Jeff Bewkes had some interesting things to say on the issue in 2013.
Basically, we’ve been dealing with this issue for years with HBO, literally 20, 30 years, where people have always been running wires down on the back of apartment buildings and sharing with their neighbors,” he said. “Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world, I think you’re right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy.
But now that HBO is investing more in streaming with HBO Now, its laid-back attitude toward illegal downloading is changing. Synchronizing its most popular show’s premiere around the world is probably just the first step.