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HBO's big test now that "Game of Thrones" is history: Don't lose viewers

"Game of Thrones" series finale
  • Subscribers to HBO's streaming service are more likely to cancel once a program ends than viewers of other platforms, market research shows.
  •  In 2016, HBO Now lost roughly half the subscribers who had signed up for "Game of Thrones" within three months of the season finale.
  • The streaming sector is much more competitive than when HBO Now launched in 2014, with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu having continued to grow and Apple, Disney and WarnerMedia all planning to launch services. 

While the final season of "Game of Thrones" left many fans of the show frustrated, none may be more disappointed than HBO. As the cable network casts about for its next hit, it also may have to contend with the departure of subscribers from its streaming service.

That's because subscribers to the service, called HBO Now, are nearly twice as likely as all streaming subscribers to bail if a specific show is cancelled or ends, according to data from Mintel. The market research firm said HBO Now subscribers are more sensitive to programming changes than users of other platforms.

"We're extremely confident that they'll see an uptick in cancellations because they have such high content-oriented consumers," said Buddy Lo, analyst at Mintel.

HBO today also faces much more competition in streaming than when HBO Now launched in 2014. Along with industry leaders Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, other services from the likes of Apple, Disney and WarnerMedia are also expected to launch later this year.

At $14.99 per month, HBO Now is one of the costlier streaming platforms. As research suggests that most households aren't willing to pay more than about $20 per month for streaming services, some providers are bound to be left out.

"If a household is picking a service to cut, HBO Now is just as likely to be on the chopping block as Ned Stark," Mintel analyst Lo wrote in a report. The only streaming platform more likely to be cut was YouTube Premium, he added.

How getting the finale wrong can taint an iconic show's legacy

It wouldn't be the first time HBO Now lost viewers after a Game of Thrones season ended. In 2016, HBO Now lost roughly half the subscribers who had signed up the show within three months of the season finale, according to Second Measure, which tracks consumer behavior. Similarly, HBO Now subscriptions jumped 91% the following year for season seven of the show, before nearly all of those gains disappeared within six months of the finale.

Game of Thrones isn't HBO's first big hit, but for the network the series was unquestionably the mother of ratings. The series finale drew an HBO record of 19.3 million viewers, beating the previous record from the penultimate episode, "The Bells." HBO averaged 44.2 million viewers per episode, an increase of 10 million viewers per episode compared to season seven.

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