House Of The Draggin’?

It’s a pretty big week for whomever’s still left at Warner Brothers Discovery.  Arguably their most anticipated series of the year, Season Two of HOUSE OF THE DRAGONS, will debut on Father’s Day night for the first of eight episodes that are hoping to extend the lifespan of the GAME OF THRONES franchise that led HBO to record levels of viewership and engagement during the previous decade.

But that was before the braintrust of Discovery got involved in the mix, a braintrust that inherited a debt-ridden company and has become increasingly focused on ROI and short-term results designed more to please investors and shareholders than consumers.  That’s one reason that despite some pretty impressive results that Season One delivered two years ago, with a later-summer debut that extended into a competitive fall, two fewer episodes and arguably a “safer” trajectory that will precede the Paris Olympics will be what its fanbase and, they hope, some newbies will “discover” at a time when, frankly, they could use something resembling good news.

That’s because it’s quite likely that the protracted negotiations with the NBA to somehow keep another key franchise in its camp will finally come to an end, and all reports at this point are that WBD will lose this real-life battle, if for no other reason than the one in charge isn’t from the House of Targaryen.

And if you believe what THE WRAP’s Lucas Manfredi reported this morning, there are some high-level stakes that not even George R.R. Martin could have envisioned:

Warner Bros. Discovery’s NBA rights are hanging in the balance as the league continues negotiations for media deals collectively worth more than $76 billion. 

If the David Zaslav-led media giant loses the NBA, the company’s ad revenue could plummet about $270 million a year, and its TNT subsidiary could see a 45% decline in affiliate fees, Citigroup analyst Jason Bazinet estimated. 

HOUSE OF THE DRAGONS, by most quantitative and qualitative barometers, is a success story.  As Wikipedia reminded:

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the first season holds an approval rating of 93%, based on 869 reviews, with an average rating of 7.75/10.  The day after the series premiere, HBO said the episode had been viewed by an estimated 9.99 million viewers in the U.S. on its first night of availability – including linear viewers and streams on HBO Max – which it said was the largest single-day viewership for a series debut in the service’s history, dethroning Euphoria.[140] After one week of availability, the viewership rose to nearly 25 million in the U.S. across all platforms.[141] Nielsen estimated that the episode was watched by 10.6 million viewers on HBO Max in the first four days, with the number increasing to 14.5 million when including the viewership on the main HBO channel.[a][142] Samba TV meanwhile stated that 4.8 million U.S. households streamed the episode in the first four days.[143] The series was also popular on social media, with the show premiere being the number one trending topic on Twitter and Google Trends.[144]

The finale of the first season was watched by 9.3 million viewers across all platforms during its premiere night according to HBO, which was the highest viewership for any finale of a HBO show since the series finale of Game of Thrones.  Nielsen stated in November 2022 that 35% of the viewers of the show were in the age range of 18–34.

That’s scale, demography and retention that any platform would covet, particularly in this day and age.  And the early reviews of Season Two are showing a high level of retention of positivity; Wiki adds: On Rotten Tomatoes, the second season holds an approval rating of 90%, based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10.

VARIETY’s Michaela Zee did her best to capture the spirit of the moment in her story from last week:

House of the Dragon” showrunner Ryan Condal describes the second season of HBO‘s “Game of Thrones” prequel as a “cold war in process.”

“And that’s really because of the dragons,” Condal told Variety at the Season 2 premiere Monday night in New York City. “Everybody’s terrified of launching mutually assured destruction and burning down the kingdom that they’re trying to rule over.”

But the real cold war in progress is the one that chairman David Zaslav and NBA commissioner Adam Silver are embroiled in.  Ever since Yosemite Zas brusquely asserted that his empire didn’t necessarily need the NBA, remarks he made at roughly the same time as HOUSE OF THE DRAGONS Season 1 was about to launch, Silver has had a determination to find more willing and positive business partners, and appears to be well down a path that will at best leave TNT with a much less significant sliver of the basketball package, and that’s a longshot that’s only become a possibility in the wake of Zaslav’s saber-rattling about a possible lawsuit that has been getting in the way of the otherwise celebratory mood surrounding the NBA Finals

And as Wiki also recounted, on what is the most important metric to someone like Yosemite Zas, this HOUSE may be far too much of a money pit for even these encouraging signs to overcome:

The production budget of the first season of House of the Dragon was nearly $200 million, which equates to an average of under $20 million per episode.[90] In comparison, its parent series, Game of Thrones, cost around $100 million per season, beginning with nearly $6 million per episode from seasons one to five, around $10 million for every episode in seasons six and seven, and up to $15 million each episode in its eighth and final season.  

So what’s a budget-obsessed mogul like Zas to do?

Perhaps while he’s about to launch another season of a spin-off from a show that helped his company to success in prior decades, he might draw some inspiration to the news that broke Friday from the camp of his one-time employer which COMING SOON.NET’s Abdullah Al-Ghamdi shared:

The long-rumored reboot of White Collar is officially moving forward, with series creator Jeff Eastin writing the script for the project. Matt BomerTim DeKay, and Tiffani Thiessen are all confirmed to return and reprise their respective roles as Neal Caffrey, Peter Burke, and Elizabeth Burke.

The news was announced during Variety’s TV Fest, confirming years of speculation about the USA Network Original series. A police procedural that debuted in October 2009 and ran for six seasons, White Collar focused on Bomer’s talented con artist and DeKay’s FBI Special Agent working together to solve crimes.  A platform for the White Collar reboot is not yet attached, though the hope is that it could end up on a streaming service. The news comes as the latest example of a renewed interest in the procedurals that USA Network aired during the 2010s. Following its record-breaking streaming viewership numbers, a spin-off of Suits is in the works at NBC.

I’d like to think at least SOMEONE is still around the company that could remind Zas that at the very time that USA was successful with what they called its “Blue Sky” original drama strategy, the hands-down winner was still TNT, who effectively invented the strategy with “We Know Drama”.  Shows with darn good track records of viewership and longevity. THE CLOSER ran seven seasons and averaged well over 5 million viewers an episode in its heyday, which preceded multiplatform aggregation.  Its spinoff, MAJOR CRIMES, ran another six.  Heck, TNT even had its own legal drama with attractive cast members, FRANKLIN AND BASH, which had a four-season run of its own.  I spent a decent amount of time at Sony looking at ways to bring that back at a far less opportunistic time.  I bet they could convince its cast members to make another go, and there’s probably a DEAL OR NO DEAL model they can find to be a part of it as well.

At a time where the only other news eminating from WBD involves yet another planned price hike for MAX, the likelihood of no NBA and too insurmountable  a financial bar for HOUSE OF THE DRAGONS to scale to justify a Season Three need to be addressed.   If indeed the somewhat lazy approach to development must include something with familarity and a track record, they could do a lot worse than the titles and strategy we’ve offered up above.  Whatever demographic trade-off there may be, the older female audience that drove WE KNOW DRAMA is a lot more likely to continue to subscribe over time than the more fickle and frugal serial churners that are likely to pop back for a two-month event like HOUSE OF THE DRAGON.  And their biologies probably won’t mind a commercial load as much, either.

It’s most definitely a Plan B in the eyes of those who can’t wait for this Sunday night.  But it’s a plan that ought to be already being formulated.   If Zaslav can take anything away from his experience with the NBA, it’s that procrastination and posturing is a game plan that typically results in diminishing returns at best and outright failure at worst.

And if he thinks a ticked off commissioner is trouble, wait ’till he confronts a pissed off Dragon.

Until next time…

Leave a Comment