Promos for HBO MAX Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon (L) and Prime Video Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

HBO Max | Amazon

As summer draws to a close, two expensive fantasy series filled with sorcery, sword fighting and fantastic beasts will premiere on rival streaming services.

While it may seem that Amazon Prime Video’s “The Rings of Power” and Warner Bros.’ “House of the Dragon” Discovery should be dueling franchises, as they start just weeks apart, the two series have very different goals for their respective studios.

The stakes may be higher for “House of the Dragon”, which will go first. It begins Sunday on HBO and the HBO Max streaming service, arriving as new CEO David Zaslav looking for fat to cut.

Cost-cutting measures have become the status quo at the recently merged company, including layoffs and content eliminations from HBO Max. While Warner Bros. Discovery is looking to save money, it’s also looking to consolidate its streaming services, which will be expensive and take time.

“House of the Dragon” tells the story of the Targaryen Civil War which took place approximately 200 years before the events depicted in “Game of Thrones”. It is based on the novel “Fire and Blood” by George RR Martin. Unlike Martin’s other books in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series, this one features an omniscient narrator who documents stories based on collected accounts of events. In some cases, these stories contradict each other and there are multiple versions of events.

Amazon Prime Video’s “The Rings of Power” arrives September 2. The series is based on material from the appendices to JRR Tolkien’s monumental “Lord of the Rings” novels. “The Rings of Power” focuses on the major events of the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time of peace disrupted by the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron. It’s set thousands of years before the debut of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” which filmmaker Peter Jackson turned into separate blockbuster trilogies at the turn of the century.

While both series have mature themes, Martin’s work is more adult-oriented, as it depicts acts of visceral violence, nudity, and sexual assault. Although there are great battles in “The Lord of the Rings”, previous versions were more suited to younger audiences.

Both series will release new episodes every week, a strategy that could turn them into must-see TV events and get audiences talking and speculating about what’s to come.

you win or you die

For Warner Bros. Discovery, the second entrant in its Game of Thrones franchise has a lot to prove and live up to. The final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ left a bitter taste in many fans’ mouths as the showrunners wrote beyond the events in material created by author Martin, who has yet to complete the season. history in his books.

“There was this, this kind of cloud that descended on the original [‘Game of Thrones,’]said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor and pop culture expert. To some extent, as we approach all of this, you know, the next chapters of the ‘Game of Thrones’ television world, there’s already this feeling of some sort of compromise.”

At the time, HBO was owned by AT&T. Now Discovery has merged with Warner Bros. and the new owners have a new streaming strategy. As the company quietly pulls shows and movies from HBO Max, and has put completed projects on hold, analysts and investors see an uncertain future.

If “House of the Dragon,” which costs $15 million to $20 million per episode, doesn’t live up to expectations, the next phase of the Game of Thrones franchise could run out quickly.

“I feel like they have more to prove in the market,” said streaming and media analyst Dan Rayburn. “Amazon, they’re not trying to impress investors and when they do, it’s around trade.”

Of course, the opposite is also true. If the “Game of Thrones” prequel is a critical success, Warner Bros. Discovery could see this fledgling franchise become a much more substantial part of the pop culture zeitgeist.

“House of the Dragon” holds a “Fresh” rating of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes from 177 reviews. For comparison, the first season of “Game of Thrones” released in 2011 had a “Fresh” rating of 90%. In fact, every season except the last season had a score above 90%. Season eight generated a 55% rating.

No rating for “The Rings of Power” yet. The three original “Lord of the Rings” films each earned between 91% and 95%, while the “Hobbit” trilogy generated scores between 59% and 74% from critics.

The road continues

Unlike traditional standalone streaming services, like HBO Max, Netflix, Disney+ or Peacock, Amazon is less liable than subscriber statistics. The films, TV series and documentaries it offers complement its e-commerce site and cloud computing business.

“The more time you spend looking at something on Amazon, the more chances you have [you’re] are going to buy shampoo, toothpaste, a lawnmower, you know, and it’s ultimately their business,” said Paul Hardart, director of the entertainment, media and technology program at NYU Stern School of Business. “And so they have many ways to make money off of you.”

Amazon’s strategy in recent years has been to focus on content that has a passionate built-in audience and will add value to its platform. In addition to grabbing the rights to Tolkien’s 2017 “Lord of the Rings” supplemental material for an estimated $250 million, the company recently purchased MGM Studios for $8.5 billion, giving it access to James Bond, the Rocky franchise and “The Silence of the Lambs.”

He has also partnered with media group Dungeons and Dragons Critical Role to create an animated series based on one of the group’s campaigns, and created his own series based on “A League of Their Own”, one based on the Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels and another. about Tom Clancy’s character, Jack Ryan.

Amazon Studios has shared its first image from its upcoming untitled series “Lord of the Rings,” due out on its streaming service on September 2, 2022.

Amazon Studios

Amazon has a five-season plan for “The Rings of Power,” a plan that will gobble up over a billion dollars in production costs and could take nearly a decade. With this investment, the company is unlikely to deviate from the series, even if the viewership is lower than expected.

Of course, analysts and investors will probably never get audience data from Amazon, Rayburn said. The company has always been quiet about its streaming numbers, handing out occasional numbers for big movies or series, but hasn’t translated those numbers into revenue numbers.

“We’ll never know if the Amazon series is a hit,” he said. “They will never come out and give us revenue-related metrics.”

Warner Bros. Discovery, on the other hand, may also keep revenue data secret, but may be more willing to concede audience data, he said. The company will also have “no choice” but to cancel the show if it doesn’t turn out well, “especially with the [recent] lower content spend,” Rayburn said.

Of course, the fans will be the final measure. Even though fans were critical of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” the series as a whole is still well-regarded and has consistently had the highest ratings on HBO during its run.

“The Rings of Power” also has a huge following. The six theatrical films tied to Tolkien’s novels have grossed more than $5.8 billion at the global box office, and Amazon – which has made a name for itself as a bookseller, after all – has seen a surge in interest. for the author’s texts earlier this year. Even “The Silmarillion,” the esoteric myth of Middle-earth published posthumously by Tolkien, hit the top of Amazon’s charts for the first time, signaling renewed interest ahead of the series.

If audiences buy into these shows, whether critics like them or not, both companies will be looking for ways to expand their respective universes and provide more content and products in the future.

It could also be good news for other streaming services getting into the fantasy. Disney+ will premiere its “Willow” series in late November, a sequel to the 1988 Ron Howard film about sword and sorcery.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Peacock and Rotten Tomatoes is owned by NBCUniversal.

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