(This is another entry in a multi-part series answering the question, “Who will win the battle to make the next Game of Thrones?” Read the previous articles here.)
A trope of genre fiction is the character with unfinished business. The lone wolf who harbors a grudge against someone or something that harmed his family, destroyed his life or stole his (or her) kingdom.
July was “unfinished business” month at The Entertainment Strategy Guy headquarters. I’ve started quite a few series and let news or time distract me from finishing them. Having checked back in on “Should Your Film Go Straight to Netflix?”, “Coronavirus Impact on Entertainment” and “The Star Wars 2019 Business Report”, it’s time to return to a series that’s over a year old, diving into a deliciously provocative topic: which TV series will make the most money for its streamer, the next Game of Thrones or the next Lord of The Rings?
Why didn’t this series get finished? Two reasons. First, I got severely distracted by explaining all the math behind my models as I was building them. This resulted in five articles that were essentially “appendices”. (Seriously, if you want to understand the economics of streaming TV, check them out.) Second, pulling the data on past fantasy TV series and movies took longer than I anticipated.
No more! Today I’ll review:
– A summary of this series so far.
– An update on the news in “fantasy TV” since last summer.
Summary of Where We Were
Cue the narrator voice for a genre series returning after a two year hiatus: “Previously, on GoT vs LoTR vs Narnia”. My challenge is about as difficult: explain a several thousand word series in a few hundred words.
This series was inspired by the general rise in fantasy programming at all the streamers. It wasn’t just Amazon that wanted the next Game of Thrones, so did Netflix and Disney+ and even HBO itself. I framed the question as:
Which franchise will make the most money for its streamer in the future, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia?
My initial assessment—what I call a “Blink” look—is that HBO will win. Frankly, they paid way less than Amazon. (Initially described as a $250 million dollar deal for Amazon.) Then I heard that Amazon guaranteed 5 seasons! That’s at least $1.25 billion, and maybe more. That only gives the edge even further to HBO. At first, I didn’t really consider Netflix a viable competitor. (I was wrong.)
Then I moved onto the analysis. Which means building models to see what they tell us. The basic formula is pretty simple:
(The probability of success X The revenue upside in success ) — Costs = Likelihood of money made
The tricky part is calculating all that. To explain it, I’m using the “POCD” framework:
It’s a framework from the venture capital world, but I’m applying it uniquely to TV series. Essentially, people, opportunity and context describe how much revenue a company can make, and the deal explains the costs.
I’ll make a bespoke model for every series under consideration using the various POCD inputs to change the probabilities or potential revenue/costs. I explained the TV profit model here and here, and also explained the tricky nature of streaming video economics here. (Those last two articles laid the ground work for my series on “The Great Irishman Project”.)
Then came the distraction. Since I had built this kick-ass TV series business model, I decided to use it on the original Game of Thrones. In a big piece published on Decider, I estimated how much money I thought GoT had brought in for HBO. (A whopping $2 billion plus.) This provides terrific context for the “upside” of all these fantasy series. (I wrote a few “director’s commentaries” for this article too.)
So that’s where my series left off. But the news didn’t end just because the series was delayed.
All The News Since Last Summer
When I started this series, I focused on three fantasy series based on arguably the three most influential fantasy books of all time…
– Game of Thrones prequel (HBO)
– Lord of the Rings prequel (Amazon)
– Chronicles of Narnia (Netflix)
Since then a few fantasy series have come out…
– The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)
– Carnival Row (Amazon)
– His Dark Materials (HBO)
– The Witcher (Netflix)
And more have been developed or are in production…
– The Wheel of Time (Prime Video)
– Sandman (Netflix)
– Untitled Beauty and the Beast (Disney+)
If all those qualify for this battle, we’re up to 10 potential contenders for the replacement for Game of Thrones. And that doesn’t include potential series (Disney’s Book of Enchantments and Lionsgate’s The Kingkiller Chronicles) that died in development. And I haven’t even looked at Syfy’s lineup to see what else could qualify. (The incomparable Magicians just ended after their fifth season. Pay attention to that data point for later.)
The Specific Updates
HBO and Game of Thrones prequel
In one of the more fascinating single day development moves, HBO both cancelled one prequel series (The Long Night/Bloodmoon) and announced another prequel series about the Targaryens (set about 300 years before GoT) called House of Dragons. I could spin this as good or bad for HBO, but either way their series is still happening. Right now, HBO is saying the prequel will arrive in 2022.
Amazon and Lord of the Rings prequel
Amazon meanwhile is furthest ahead, having started production this spring in New Zealand, only to be another Covid-19 casualty. (Though I believe production is set to start production soon or already has.) Amazon was under time pressure to get a TV series in production within two years, and that appears to have motivated the streamer.
Netflix and Chronicles of Narnia
If you search for Chronicles of Narnia and Netflix, you run into a series of articles asking, “Is this thing still happening?” And no one really knows. Netflix insists it is, and Entertainment One has hired a “creative architect”, but there is no release date or known shooting schedule. Which means we’re going to drop this series from our main contenders for another lower down.
The Dark Crystal and Carnival Row
I’d describe these two series and “came and went” at Netflix and Amazon (respectively). Like the Magicians, these two series demonstrate that not every fantasy series is a guaranteed blockbuster. Though the former was arguably more popular due to the “Netflix Effect”. Still, neither is set to be the next Game of Thrones.
HBO and His Dark Materials
As one of HBO’s first “Monday premieres”, this series was overwhelmed by Watchmen in terms of buzz. It has a better chance than either of the two previous series at being a future Game of Thrones, but the odds of that are pretty low.
The Witcher on Netflix
And now we have a legitimate contender! Lots of folks pointed out that I should have dropped Narnia for The Witcher when I first started this series. Indeed, The Witcher may have single handedly helped Netflix meet subscriber targets by releasing right at the end of 2019. It is arguably Netflix’s first or second biggest show currently on the air. (With the acknowledgement that “on the air” is an anachronism.) In other words, The Witcher has a great chance to be the next Game of Thrones.
Meanwhile, I’m going to monitor every other fantasy series that pops up in development or production. (For example, Amazon’s Wheel of Time series has promise.)
Now that we know where we’ve been, and what’s happened since, we can move into our four-part framework for predicting which of these series will win the battle. Tomorrow, we’ll continue with the first letter in our framework, P for People.