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HBO Could Use a Hit. Enter the Dragons.

The dragons are back. And not a moment too soon.

On Sunday, “House of the Dragon,” the “Game of Thrones” prequel series, will return to HBO for its second season. The show became a bona fide hit in its first season, in 2022, and helped kick off a torrid winning streak for the network that included the beloved sophomore season of “The White Lotus”; the premiere of a new hit, “The Last of Us”; and the decorated final season of “Succession.”

But over the past year, HBO has encountered a fallow stretch — unusual for America’s pre-eminent premium television network.

There have been disappointments (the music drama “The Idol” and the Kate Winslet-starring limited series “The Regime,” for instance), and delayed premieres because of the double Hollywood strikes last year. According to one widely used industry metric, Max, the 13-month-old streaming service that houses HBO’s shows, has plateaued during that time. One high-ranking executive at Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO’s parent company, chalked up Max’s slow start to “probably the lightest content slate we’ve ever had.”

HBO’s one-year slowdown could be underscored when Emmy nominations arrive next month, usually a cause for celebration for the network. But in contrast to previous years, shows from HBO and Max will not be favorites in some of the major categories, including drama, a category that HBO dominated at the most recent Emmys.

According to some award forecasters, HBO could finish third among networks in total nominations, which would be its lowest ranking since 1996.

HBO executives acknowledged that they were anticipating reduced award recognition this year. But they said they were looking to the months ahead, starting with this weekend.

“Knowing the returning shows we have, and the new shows coming up, I can tell you I’m feeling very good going into the next 18 months to two years,” Casey Bloys, the chairman of HBO and Max content, said in an interview.

In addition to “House of the Dragon,” Mr. Bloys pointed to several series debuting this year, including “The Penguin,” starring Colin Farrell; a prequel series from the “Dune” universe; and a new comedy from Armando Iannucci, the creator of “Veep.” Two hits will return next year: “The White Lotus” and “The Last of Us.”

“When I look to the future, it’s not an unknown at all,” Mr. Bloys said.

Industry insiders have long looked for signals of an HBO slump. And given its outsize success over the past three decades, it generally draws more scrutiny — from viewers and critics — than other networks.

Still, the slowdown comes at a fragile time in the entertainment industry. The lucrative cable bundle is eroding, being replaced by the dicey economics of streaming. The Peak TV era has ended, and Hollywood is in the midst of an industrywide contraction.

HBO’s parent company faces all of those challenges, and more: The company has a debt load of roughly $40 billion, and its share price has declined more than 30 percent this year.

When Warner Bros. Discovery was formed in 2022, the promise of Max — a combination of Warner Bros. movies and shows, including those from HBO, and Discovery’s enormous supply of unscripted content — was a big justification for the merger. The idea was that the combination could compete more directly with streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

But engagement on Max — renamed from HBO Max in 2023 — has not been growing. The service accounts for 1.2 percent of television use in the United States, according to Nielsen, just as it did a year ago. Netflix’s share is significantly higher (7.6 percent), and even middle- or lower-tier services like Tubi (1.7 percent), Roku Channel (1.4 percent) and Peacock (1.3 percent) now slightly eclipse Max. Warner Bros. Discovery, however, said its streaming division was profitable, whereas Peacock, for example, lost nearly $3 billion last year.

At a conference this year, JB Perrette, the president of global streaming at Warner Bros. Discovery, acknowledged that the strikes had contributed to a weaker lineup of shows and movies. “We had a much lighter slate in the second half of the year than we ever expected,” he said.

Mr. Bloys said the labor strife slowed the releases of many of the network’s hits — including delays for “The White Lotus” and “The Last of Us” — and “The Penguin,” a show that Mr. Bloys said he felt “very strongly” about. Another “Game of Thrones” spinoff is also scheduled to premiere next year.

There have been some recent successes. The fourth season of “True Detective” premiered this year, averaging roughly 13 million viewers an episode, more than the final season of “Succession,” according to the network. The Max original series “Hacks” also just finished its critically acclaimed third season.

Still, “Hacks” is likely to have an uphill climb at the Emmys against the most recent best comedy winner, the FX and Hulu series “The Bear.”

Netflix is widely expected to lead all networks in Emmy nominations this year, besting HBO for the first time in four years. It’s also possible that FX, which has another strong awards contender in “Shogun,” could be in a dead heat with HBO and Max for the second-most nominations. Emmy voting began on Thursday, and nominations will be announced on July 17.

But to HBO’s executives, questions about whether it can maintain its high standards are all too familiar. The network, Mr. Bloys said, has endured “various periods of hand-wringing” in which the industry fixated on any perceived signs of weakness.

Shortly after “The Sopranos” ended in 2007, for instance, rival executives labeled the network “HB-Over.” Similarly, when it encountered a drama drought in 2015, or when “Game of Thrones” went off the air in 2019, the network was peppered with questions about its future.

HBO, to say the least, survived.

Mr. Bloys maintained that it was “different this time” because during those earlier periods, HBO did not have any sure bets waiting in the wings. This time, it does, he said.

“Things will happen — Emmys will come and go,” he said. “I think what serves us is to just continue to concentrate on our own shows and doing the best possible shows we can.”

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