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These Three Countries Are Winning the 'Game of Thrones'

Friday, 5 Apr 2013 | 1:23 PM ET
Helen Sloane | HBO

Who's winning the "Game of Thrones?"

As the Lannister and Stark clans continue to fight to the death on screen, there are some clear winners on the other side of the cameras.

Millions of dollars are being pumped into local economies in Iceland, Northern Ireland and Croatia, where many of the HBO series' exotic settings are filmed.

"Game of Thrones," based on the best-selling "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series by author George R.R. Martin, is the story of seven feuding families fighting for control of the fictional Westeros kingdom. The series, full of sex, back-stabbing and bloody battles, was recently renewed for a fourth season.

WinterfellNorthern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the location where the woodsy, damp and dark scenes of the 'Winterfell' portion of the show are filmed. It is the home of the protagonists of the story, the Stark family.

An estimated $98.4 million has been pumped into the economy in Northern Ireland so far, according to estimates from Northern Ireland Screen, the government-backed agency supporting media production in the region. This estimate includes all the money spent on good and services over the past three seasons of the show so far.

Local film and television companies, sound stage builders, design teams, transportation companies and extras' talent agencies are all benefiting from "Game of Thrones" filming in the Belfast area, according to NIS.


'Game of Thrones' Economies
CNBC's Jane Wells reports on how local economies in Iceland, Croatia and Northern Ireland are benefiting from the popular HBO series.

HBO said there have been as many as 750 crew members working on filming, all at the same time, for shoots there.

The NIS staff is very excited about the fanfare and success of "Game of Thrones" and encourage the stimulation of the local economy. The agency hopes "Game of Thrones" will do for Northern Ireland what Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" did for New Zealand.

(Read More: The Big Business of 'Mad Men')

NIS estimates the upcoming fourth season could bring in another $30 million for Northern Ireland's economy, according to Moyra Lock, head of marketing for the agency.

Lock also told CNBC that NIS has provided $13.9 million in production funding to the show so far, investing more money with each season.

Helen Sloane | HBO

The show's filming comes at a time when the local economy could use an extra boost.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and U.K. GDP contracted at a rate of 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to U.K. National Statistics service.

North of the WallIceland

If you move north on the mythical Westeros map, to where all those freezing cold, snow-covered, miserable looking scenes 'North of the Wall' are filmed, you'll find yourself in Iceland.

HBO works with a production company based there called Pegasus that provided crews, extras, equipment and facilitated the shoots locally, according to the company's production manager, Einar Sveinn, .

Both HBO and Pegasus declined to provide CNBC with specific details about the cost of filming in Iceland.

Pegasus, however, said up to 250 crew, actors, and extras were working on the scenes there and 500 hundred rental cars were used during shooting.

Pegasus Managing Director Lilja sk Snorradttir said about 3,000 hotel rooms were rented over the period of shooting in the country. With each room costing a minimum of about $80 per night, that works out to a total of $240,000 spent just on hotel rooms in 2011 and 2012.


Iceland, like Northern Ireland, welcomes the show filming there. Today, the tourism department is launching a sweepstakes called "Iceland Naturally" which is a marketing project targeting U.S. tourists. Fans can enter to win a trip to Iceland and visit the sites where the series was shot.

Gudrun Birna from Promote Iceland, part of Iceland's government-backed tourism arm, said they do not have any measurements yet on how tourism has been affected by the show. However, they did pose the question on social media channels a few weeks ago and the response was "phenomenal," she said, indicating people have been traveling to the country because of "Game of Thrones."

Iceland is one European Union economy that is in better shape than many of the others.

While the EU 27's unemployment rate ticked up in February to 10.9 percent, Iceland's dropped to 4.7 percent compared to 7.3 percent a year earlier. GDP growth in 2012 was 1.6 percent in Iceland while the E.U. 27 economies as a whole contracted at a rate of 0.3 percent for the year.


QarthCroatia

If you've watched the show and wondered where all the exotic, arid, desert footage was shot for the 'Qarth' kingdom scenes, HBO said they are mostly filmed in Croatia.

The premium cable channel works with a production company called Embassy Films, based in Croatia, for the scenes shot there. About 170 local crew were employed for shooting in Dubrovnik, according to the production company.

"This was very good for Croatian, Dubrovnik economy, starting from crew and people directly involved, to hotels, transportation, etc.," said Erika Milutin, executive producer working on the show with Embassy Films.

When asked for some figures on production costs there, Milutin said, "Due to the confidentially agreement I have signed with HBO I am not allowed to share any more information with you." HBO also refused to provide more details.


However, Jelka Tepsic, head of Communication Department for the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, said they have already begun organizing tours of Croatia based on "Game of Thrones" filming locations.

Croatia is another country in dire need of economic help.

Its economy was hit very hard during the recession. In 2009, the economy was contracting at a rate of 6.9 percent on average for the year. It's made gains since, however the economy is still not growing. In 2012, it was still shrinking at a rate of 2.0 percent on average, according to Eurostat.

Also, the jobless rate is exceptionally high—18 percent as of December 2012.


Where to next?

"Game of Thrones" scenes have also been filmed in Morocco, Scotland and Malta, although the majority of production is based in Northern Ireland for the show, according to Mara Mikialian, Vice President of Program Publicity for HBO.

With season four ahead, Mikialian told CNBC, "We'll absolutely be back in N.I. and likely we'll return to Iceland and Croatia."

—Written by CNBC's Katy Byron; Sofia Pitt contributed to this report.

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