Anyone who invests in HBO (NYSE:TWX) knows the value of Game of Thrones.
It has become the network's flagship series and reigning Best Drama winner at the Emmys. Yet, HBO has never been content to rest on its laurels, and its newest Thrones related venture is both clever and potentially very valuable to shareholders.
On Monday, HBO revealed it will team with pop culture tastemaker Bill Simmons for After the Thrones, a Game of Thrones post-show series. On paper anything related to Game of Thrones content is a big deal, but this goes beyond the "this is cool" factor.
First, just a little background. The post-show talk show first became popular with AMC's (NASDAQ:AMCX) The Walking Dead which has slowly turned into a bona-fide ratings grabber. Keep in mind Talking Dead wasn't always a hit, but when AMC realized its potential and nurtured the Chris Hardwick hosted program, it blossomed.
Airing directly after Walking Dead rather than after its encore has given the show ratings that rival those of more mainstream scripted series. Talking Dead is also very inexpensive as it's an hour of Hardwick talking to guests on a couch. The show regularly hits over six million viewers with many falling in the hard to reach 18-49 demo.
It's become a staple among AMC's stable of original programming and regularly extends itself to other shows including Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Fear The Walking Dead. Yet HBO's decision to mimic that technique goes beyond AMC's business model.
Unlike the AMC model, as of now, it looks like After the Thrones will not air after Game of Thrones, but air the following day and first on HBO Go and HBO Now. While HBO has said the show will see air on the traditional linear channel, it is expected to debut on the net's streaming services first.
Investors shouldn't underestimate the importance of this as it represents a further twist in the streaming market takeover. As I mentioned in previous coverage, HBO was planning to use the streaming side to pull in new content from Simmons and Jon Stewart that would utilize this exact model. Of note here is that this show is just being produced by Simmons, meaning it's different from his own upcoming in-the-works series that provides more content.
HBO's reasoning here for seemingly not going the traditional route has to do with its glut of original programming during the spring season. First HBO's Sunday nights have always been the network's bread-and-butter time frame. For the past two years, the combination of Thrones and fellow Emmy recognized series Veep and Silicon Valley have formed potentially the best two hours on television.
Now, to be clear, I don't work for Time Warner and I don't have stock in TWX, I just know good quality TV when I see it and those three series (paired with lead-out Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) are some of the sharpest on TV.
The point I'm trying to make is that HBO has no reason to break up its lineup just to milk its top brand. This is giving HBO another way to not only spin-off content from its cash cow, but also use it in a way to support a rising venture of great importance.
Remember, it wasn't long ago that analysts were berating HBO head Richard Plepler for lower-than-anticipated HBO NOW numbers. Plepler wasn't just spinning when he said to wait as the value would soon be evident.
Arguably, if any show needs a recap-talk show, it's Thrones. The series, based on the popular George R.R. Martin books, has a lot of things that are easy to miss. Conversely, Walking Dead is fairly straight forward, but Talking Dead's value is that it mixes behind-the-scenes info with what is essentially therapy.
For a show with such a high body count, giving fans the chance to see the newest departed cast member alive and well makes a difference. Yes, we know it's a TV show, but you become so emotionally invested in the series and its characters that it is nice to see them talking about their time on the program after what is often a violent death.
Given Thrones has never been shy to off a lead that could be a useful tool for viewers. While it is unclear if After will feature the same exit type interviews, it is still a place to discuss the events around those exits, and that has value.
This is a smart shrewd move by a smart shrewd network that has always been forward-thinking. Like others, I agree the network is still in need of big hits to sustain its future, but HBO has always been good at waiting for the right program to come along, and concepts like this will help sustain it in the meantime.
Image credit: HBO
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I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.