EXCLUSIVE: For all the noise about David Zaslav’s quest to find $3 billion in cost-saving initiatives at the newly merged Warner Bros Discovery, what remains important to the new CEO is to spend on content where those dollars pay off.
And where is that? Why, on the launch of HBO’s near $200M Game of Thrones spinoff series, House of the Dragon, premiering this Sunday on both the linear pay-TV channel and streaming service HBO Max. Sources inform Deadline that HBO’s biggest marketing campaign ever is valued at over $100M in media spend (that’s a combo of ad spot value and hard cash shelled out). That’s a theatrical tentpole-sized marketing budget by all accounts, not some thrifty, Netflix-type push to subscribers on its menu. And as Zaslav pointed out today in his congratulatory memo to staffers (obtained by Deadline) before House of the Dragon‘s debut, it’s already paid off with the series campaign having “reached nearly 130 million people in the US alone,” while also repping a united front across a majority of brands in the Warner Bros Discovery empire to tubthump this new show.
In speaking to Deadline, Pia Barlow, EVP of HBO Originals Marketing, said the m.o. of the House of the Dragon marketing campaign was to “galvanize both new and existing fans,” that demo being men and women, 18-54.
“The House of the Dragon campaign is really about generating big, broad awareness and interest throughout the summer, but to also make sure we’re signaling to existing fans as well as new fans alike that this is a new Game of Thrones story coming to HBO Max,” Barlow adds.
“It has also been exciting to see teams across the company work collaboratively with the HBO team in what has been an unprecedented cross-promotional campaign. And we’ve done all of this in just a few short months, clearly showing what we can accomplish when our networks, streaming platforms, digital and social channels all work collectively in support of one shared priority,” Zaslav emphasized this AM. He outlined the conglom’s plan to micro target viewers in a marketing push that has spanned social media, outdoor, digital, traditional TV spots and splashy promotions on such distribution partners like Xfinity cable (where there’s a HOTD destination on their X1 and Flex video platforms) and Roku, which also produced a special episode of their content buzz show, The Roku Rundown.
If the House of Targaryen is rich in dragons, then Warner Bros Discovery has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to ad space, with HOTD getting pumped across such channels, per advertising stat org iSpot, as TBS (20.9%), Discovery (9.1%), TNT (7.7%), CNN (7.4%) and Food Network (6.6%). If you were watching HGTV, you’d catch a fire-breathing dragon popping up in the bottom of the screen during your favorite show in a banner to promote the Ryan J. Condal co-created series. iSpot also reports that 99.1% of HBO’s promo TV ad impressions since July 20 came from HOTD.
Another notable mention in the teamwork for HOTD among Warner Bros Discovery channels was the exclusive look at the Martin series on the debut night of Discovery’s Shark Week on Sunday, July 24. Want more cross-promotion? How about the members of TNT’s All Elite Wrestling team sitting on the new GOT throne from HOTD at the San Diego Comic-Con experience (read down).
In regards to the future success of HBO Max, Zaslav has made it clear that it’s in the catalog of series and marquee Warner Bros theatrical titles hitting the service 45 days after they’re in cinemas. Warner Bros Discovery bean counters see zero upside to distributing movies directly to HBO Max like the previous WarnerMedia regime under Jason Kilar. It’s a tremendous waste of money, and their availability in theaters and homes simultaneously diminishes their patina, as well as their resonance in subsequent ancillary windows.
Not to mention there’s research out there to prove that frosh subscribers come for a movie, then bail on the service. It’s the weekly drop of a hot episodic series such as HOTD which keeps subs locked in. Not to mention, windowed theatrical films on HBO Max click better than day-and-date. We’ve heard that the first weekend of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore on HBO Max after its 45 days in theaters ($95M domestic box office) drove close to 20% of the traffic to the OTT service, while in the pic’s first week, it was responsible for a third of HBO Max’s traffic.
In addition, third-party streaming measurement org Samba TV reported that the first week of The Batman on HBO Max (after its 45-day theatrical run) pulled in 4.1 million households, besting the first week of such day-and-date Warner movies as The Suicide Squad (3.5M), Wonder Woman 1984 (3.2M), The Matrix Resurrections (3.2M) and Dune (2.3M).
The HOTD campaign kicked off with two teaser trailers released on Oct. 5, 2021 (17.1M YouTube views) and May 5, 2022 (14M YT views). But then the marketing mojo kicked into high gear heading into San Diego Comic-Con, which saw a walk-up trailer drop (July 20, 18.8M YT view), the Hall H panel with the cast, Condal, and an extended trailer; the DracARys dragon-egg hatching app, and The House of the Dragon: Dragon’s Den live experience; the latter pulling in 4k attendees who walked through the series’ castle world adorned with actors in cosplay. All of these efforts continue to shine for HBO’s social media; SDCC being “the gift that keeps on giving,” says Barlow, yielding 102M impressions and 128K new followers on the House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones social channels.
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) July 21, 2022
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) July 21, 2022
Says Barlow about HOTD’s big footprint at Comic-Con, “The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was right in our launch window, and because it was the first time we were going to be back truly in full force after a few years, we knew that there was going to be this pent-up demand and excitement from fans, and we’ve had pretty significant presence in the past with Game of Thrones at Comic-Con. So, there was almost an expectation that we also wanted to make sure we were fulfilling for fans.”
Social media analytics firm RelishMix clocked how loud the volume was for HOTD, saying HBO “took an solid organic approach to engaging fans of the GOT franchise social network of 44.1M — as early as casting in preproduction to engaging them with new social channels for HOTD, now built across Facebook Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.” Add in HBO Max’s followers and the social media universe reach for the new Westeros World series stands at close to 313M.
“Material hasn’t been flooded, but selectively posted, with only 12 videos on Facebook at 11.1M views and fewer on YouTube with 134.2M views, all cross-posted on earned channels,” says RelishMix in their latest report to Deadline. “The Comic-con announcements and live panel spiked a wave of materials leading-up to the streaming premiere weekend.”
Also happening this Sunday on the day of the premiere is a new Snapchat selfie + world facing AR lens which will run throughout the course of the first season. AR developers who are members of Snap’s global Lens Network are building custom Landmarker AR experiences in their local markets, which include AR renderings of the HOTD dragons as they take over global landmarks. The Landmarker lenses will be unlockable via the Lens Carousel when Snapchatters are near a notable location. The lens will be available in such territories as Australia, parts of Europe, India, the Middle East and Northern Africa, North America, and more. The custom Landmarker AR experiences will launch in Chennai, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Prague and Rio de Janeiro this Sunday.
Among the promo partners for HOTD, there’s Bose, which had their sound system featured throughout the Dragon’s Den at SDCC, and Duolingo, which kicked off on July 19, with fans learning High Valyrian ahead of the HOTD premiere. The app’s TikTok viral mascot made an appearance at the HOTD Comic-Con activation, where he reminded attendees to complete their lessons with life-size push notifications and signs with dragon commands in High Valyrian.
In addition, among the promo partners, there’s a month-long pop-up experience for the series at the Natural History Museum of LA from Aug. 5-Sept. 7. Inspired by the exhibits one might see exploring the relics and traditions of real-life regimes such as ancient Rome or ancient Egypt, the HOTD exhibit features props, costumes, and specially-designed displays to highlight the history of Daenerys Targaryen’s ancestors.
It would be an understatement to say that the stakes are high here in the rollout of House of the Dragon, not only from a future GOT development franchise angle, but also in regards to ratings. The final season of Game of Thrones left big shoes for House of the Dragon to fill, and that was before HBO had the power of HBO Max. GOT in its final season averaged 46M per episode domestically, and RelishMix notes there’s chatter on social media of those who are “still not satisfied with the ending.” Euphoria Season 2 episodes, by comparison, which had the added advantage of HBO Max, averaged 19.5M viewers each across all platforms.
Still, RelishMix notes social chatter where there’s an “excitement for the new journey back in time 200-years before GOT — from protective dragon lovers who insist that ‘no dragons were hurt in the making of the show’ and feel that they are the core of tale — to Matt Smith super fans who are on the edge — to HBO fans who relish the history of quality programming.”
A ratings windfall for HOTD will no doubt be one of the early wins for Zaslav’s management style, which looks to break down the walls between all Warner Bros Discovery brands and amp up their synergies to the nth degree.
Beamed Zaslav in the conclusion of his company email today, “We are committed to building one team with one mission – the third of three strategic priorities I highlighted in our recent earnings call – and the efforts in support of the launch of House of the Dragon are a great indication of how strong we are and what we can do when we work together.”