The streaming wars have turned to fantastical medieval worlds for the latest battles, as two of the genre’s biggest franchises – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones – debuted their respective new prequel series to record audiences.
The debut of the Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon gave HBO its biggest premiere ever, attracting over 10 million viewers across all platforms (over the air on its HBO cable network and through its streaming service HBO Max) in the United States. Not to be outdone, Amazon set their own ratings record with the premiere of their Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of Power. The debut of the first two episodes attracted over 25 million viewers globally over the first 24 hours the show was available on their streaming platform, Amazon Prime Video.
Critics and viewers can debate which of these is the better series, but each is of critical importance to their respective streaming platforms. Amazon has made a huge bet, investing over $1 billion in Rings of Power, as the company aims to bolster Prime Video’s standing. For HBO, in the wake of cutting dozens of titles from HBO Max before next year’s merger with Discovery+ under a new platform, House of the Dragon’s success could be vital to retaining customers.
Ever since the massive success of HBO’s first Game of Thrones series, other networks and platforms have been chasing after other fantasy intellectual properties as they try to recapture the magic with an epic fantasy series of their own. Last November, Amazon adapted Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series for Amazon Prime Video, and have already renewed it for a third season even ahead of the season two premiere. Netflix has had their own recent foray of success with the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy comic book The Sandman, and the service’s The Witcher series (based on the books by Andrzej Sapkowski) ranks among Netflix’s most viewed of all-time.
Data from Interpret’s VideoWatch shows that those who watch fantasy television are more likely to have a premium television subscription (either pay for a premium channel or a premium streaming subscription). Fantasy television series are typically big budget and not often found on broadcast or free streaming services, and fantasy genre fans are willing to pay for the content they want to see.
Having these high-profile fantasy series is an effective way for streaming platforms to attract – and retain – viewers. Networks will no doubt continue to invest in the genre, either with original IP or by reviving popular franchises from the past. Disney+ will premiere their Willow series – a sequel to the 1988 fantasy film – in November. The resurgence of the fantasy genre in premium subscription television has also opened up a bidding war between streaming platforms for the reboot rights to the children’s fantasy The NeverEnding Story.