The age of $15-million-per-hour TV is upon us

TV costs are sky high.
TV costs are sky high.
Image: HBO
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Westeros might have a debt problem, but Game of Thrones is rolling in dough.

The six-episode final season of the hit HBO drama will cost an otherworldly $15 million per episode, Variety reports, while others have hinted that each installment could actually cost significantly more than that.

That would make the show’s last season the most expensive television season of all time on a per-episode basis. A few individual episodes of other TV shows have cost more—the pilot for HBO’s Westworld, for instance, reportedly cost $25 million—but no series has ever been so consistently costly across an entire season.

Some networks have come close. Netflix’s The Crown and recently-canceled The Get Down both cost about $10 million per episode. Many other shows on American cable and streaming TV cost in the $6 million to $8 million range. But when it comes to spending, no one does it better than Thrones.

Compared to its current inflated production costs, the fantasy series was produced quite modestly when it first aired, at just $6 million per episode—on par with the first seasons of Netflix’s Stranger Things and FX’s American Crime Story. As Thrones has become more popular, though, it’s invested in more shooting locations, bigger and better visual effects, and an ever-growing list of talent. The series has filmed in Northern Ireland, Croatia, Malta, Spain, Iceland, and Morocco.

Elsewhere across TV, rising production costs are due to a confluence of factors:

  • more investment by deep-pocketed streaming services like Netflix
  • increasingly competitive bidding wars over talent
  • a shift in focus to big, bold, original dramas
  • growing concern over growing subscriber numbers than improving dwindling ad revenues

Variety offered another theory: Inexperienced filmmakers and crew members don’t know don’t know how to run a tight ship.

Industry insiders privately speculate that the strain on the talent pool of line producers and technical, craft and stunt crew members has been a factor in what seems to be a jump in the number of on-set accidents in recent months.

Simply put, it’s impossible to have seasoned people at the helm of every show when the volume of scripted series production spiked 71% between 2011 and 2016 — or from 266 series in 2011 to 455 in 2016, according to FX Networks Research. The 2017 tally is projected to top 500.

The $90 million final season of Game of Thrones will debut on HBO in either 2018 or 2019.