HBO to Top $1 Billion in International Revenue This Year

Game of Thornes - TV Still: Richard Madden - HBO - 2011
Nick Briggs/HBO

The network’s new series “Game of Thrones” has already become its best-selling series abroad, beating prices fetched by “The Sopranos.”

NEW YORK – Time Warner’s HBO expects to top $1 billion in international revenue this year, up about 50% over the figure it recorded three years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In a latest sign of international success, the premium pay network’s newest show, Game of Thrones, premieres on Sunday, but has already become HBO's best-selling series abroad ever, fetching more than $2.5 million an episode, more than 50% above the international price tag for The Sopranos, the paper said.

"We have significantly accelerated our international thrust over the past few years," HBO CEO Bill Nelson told the Journal. "We have broken through at a much, much higher level than in the past, and have found that our programming not only crosses geographical boundaries but cultural ones as well."

While the network's number of paying U.S. subscribers has remained virtually flat at 40 million, its international users have increased to more than 42 million this year from about 28 million in 2007, the Journal said.

The paper highlighted that Thrones lies at the intersection of several strategic focus areas for HBO, including international growth, a renewed focus on originals and technological advances.

For example, it will be the first show that will see HBO make available some episodes via burgeoning streaming video service HBO Go before they are televised. Early next month, the service, designed to strengthen the bond that subscribers have with HBO, will be available on the iPad and Android devices.

"The value of video streaming has become so important to the customer that we've realized it's a vital part of the subscription service," said Eric Kessler, co-president of HBO.

Meanwhile, according to the Journal, HBO has in the past three years doubled spending on finding and developing original series, such as Boardwalk Empire, True Blood and Thrones, amid an industry-wide focus on originals.

"Original programming is the centerpiece of our brand and what our subscribers continue to cite as a main reason why they want HBO," co-president Richard Plepler told the Journal. "It helps drive viewership, international growth and the back end of our business."

HBO is shooting more pilots with big-name talent, including an Aaron Sorkin project about the cable news business and Veep, a political comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus that is set in the vice president's office.

Agent Ari Emanuel, who represents Sorkin, told the Journal that his clients are gravitating toward HBO in a world of an expanding number of outlets and distribution platforms due to its brand. "In a world with infinite distribution, brand recognition becomes so important,” he said. “Besides [Walt Disney Co.], HBO is one of the few places that has it.”