HBO renews ‘Game of Thrones’

Fantasy series a huge hit for pay cabler

The third-season renewal of “Game of Thrones” means HBO has even more profit potential at the ready, with no end in sight.

The fantasy series is not only a huge hit domestically but a global phenomenon as well. Show has been sold to 199 countries and in 150 countries it airs within 10 days of the Stateside launch — a strategy that has been recently undertaken by several nets to help avoid piracy.HBO earns $2.5 million per episode from the combined territories. That helps to offset the skein’s approximate $5 million-$6 million production costs. “Thrones” is shot in Europe, with plenty of coin spent on set and production design to conjure up the imaginary world of Westeros, the backdrop for the show’s dramatic undertakings.

The DVD sales are impressive as well. In the first week after the March 6 release of season one, 350,000 DVD units were sold — a seven-day record for any HBO series. The number is impressive considering the DVD market has taken a considerable hit the last few years as more viewers than ever before are consuming both current and past TV series via services such as Netflix. “Thrones” also set an HBO record for most digital downloads, though no figure was given.

The renewal was quite expected considering the season-two premiere has accumulated a gross audience of 8.3 million viewers and is on track to surpass the season-one average of 9.3 million. Production is scheduled to begin in summer.

Coming only a few weeks after the unexpected cancellation of David Milch and Michael Mann’s horse-racing series “Luck,” the season-two success for “Thrones” is a welcome relief to HBO.

“Series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss raised our expectations for the second season and then surpassed them,” said HBO programming president Michael Lombardo. “We are thrilled by all the viewer and media support we’ve received for the series and can’t wait to see what Dan and David have in store for next season.”

Though HBO wasn’t specific about the episode order, the show’s first two seasons have run 10 episodes each. The current season will run through June 3.

Ensemble cast includes Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Aidan Gillen. Exec producers are Benioff, Weiss, Carolyn Strauss and Frank Doelger.

Series is based on the novels by author George R.R. Martin.

With a third season of “Thrones” ordered and viewership high, HBO is now shifting its sights toward half-hour comedies. Lena Dunham’s “Girls” — about twentysomethings living in New York — will debut on Sunday, and “Veep,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is set to premiere April 22.

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