Winter finally returned to our screens this week and Game of Thrones is hotter than ever. The first episode of season 7 was watched by 16.1 million HBO subscribers in the US and 2.8 million viewers on Sky Atlantic in the UK – up 50% and 30% on season 6 respectively. But, with an average budget of $6 million per episode, is the dragon-fuelled fantasy saga hot enough? This week’s mailer hand picks a selection of interesting perspectives on the unique popularity of the show; its role in a world of increasingly fragmented TV viewing; and how its success is challenging producers and platforms alike.
Is it that big?
Although this week heralded GoT’s most popular season launch to date, it is important to put these viewing figures into perspective. Each episode is now watched by an average of 25 million people in the US, including linear plays and recordings on HBO’s cable network as well as its on-demand services. While many regard GoT as a blockbuster, notes Recode, its viewing figures are dwarfed by big film releases like Star Wars’ Rogue One (60 million) and sporting events like the Super Bowl (112 million) respectively.
Audiences to kill for*
However, as Recode goes on to reveal, GoT is far more effective at acquiring audiences than typical blockbusters. Firstly, GoT is efficient: while it cost Rogue One $2.17 to create an hour of content per viewer, it costs GoT only 42 cents. Secondly, GoT’s audiences are highly-engaged: returning week after week for the episodes, but also consuming and creating an entire ecosystem of ancillary content long before and after the broadcasts. HBO’s trailer for season 7, for example, accrued over 61 million views in its first 24 hours. GoT is a “cultural behemoth”, writes The Guardian, and its impact can be seen throughout media, pop culture, fan conventions, commemorative tapestries and a wake of new fantasy TV dramas.
Interestingly, GoT may actually be more popular in the UK than in the states. Parrot Analytics released research after the finale of season 6 that showed GoT had become the most in-demand series in over 100 countries, with audiences in the UK, India and Mexico showing higher demand for the show compared to their American counterparts.
Event TV for the Netflix age
The most surprising indicator of GoT’s cultural power is that the TV episodes are “events” at an unprecedented global scale. As both producer and international distributor of the series, notes the Conversation, HBO is in the rare position to control GoT’s availability and air new episodes simultaneously with its US broadcast in 170 markets. Closer to home, the BBC was able to simulcast the 50th Anniversary special of Doctor Who to 94 countries in 2013 (albeit a one-off special).
In a world where young Americans are binge-watching TV for five hours straight, these events are a rare achievement. The Ringer believes that the investment and coordination required to create and simulcast globally-appealing content may make these events even rarer in the future. We at MTM, however, are not so sure. As Netflix and Amazon continue to drive up production budgets and experiment with staggered release schedules in an ever-more connected world, the next global TV blockbuster may already be on its way.
Having a large, highly-engaged and highly-vocal audience spread across the world does present some challenges. Firstly, adjusting the tone and style of the programme risks an enormous backlash. The producers and Ed Sheeran felt the full force of this after the singer-songwriter was featured singing and song writing in this week’s episode. As one viewer understated on Twitter, “Seeing Ed Sheeran in GoT was the biggest wtf moment of my existence.” Secondly, the sheer scale of demand can push online video services to their limits. DirecTV Now, HBO Go, the HBO Website and Foxtel all suffered technical problems, which is particularly awkward if you have marketed your service on the show. In the context of a true global phenomenon, however, GoT’s challenges are minor hurdles.
If you would like to discuss any of the points above further, such as the developing demands for high-end drama across the world, or the technical challenges in delivering online video services at scale, please get in touch. To sign up for our weekly round-up of interesting articles and opinions, visit www.mtmlondon.com/subscribe.
*In the meantime, here is a 21-minute compilation of Game of Thrones’ 150,966 deaths [spoiler alert]