Technology is impacting the Game of Thrones viewing experience

What technological changes have people experienced over the programme's seven seasons, and how has the viewing experience evolved?

Game of Thrones is without doubt one of the most popular television shows of recent times. Aside from the twists and turns of George R.R Martin’s masterpiece, the viewing experience has continued to evolve in order to entice new viewers.

Advances in technology over the last seven seasons mean the way fans watched Ned Stark’s beheading in season one is dramatically different to the way they experienced the Red Wedding. (Even watching other people’s recorded reactions to the Red Wedding became another element of the show.) And with constant technological advancements, there’s no telling how, where, or when we will each personally witness who finally claims the Iron Throne.

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It’s difficult to believe that just 2.2 million people tuned in to the first-ever episode. Season seven drew in a viewership of 26 million people, making it HBO’s most-watched season premier ever.

In addition to a compelling story, a large reason for this growth in viewership can be attributed to fans having more choice in how they watch their favourite programme. But much like the plot, the technological landscape has had many twists and turns to allow this.

Back to when we arrived in Westeros

In 2011, the way in which viewers watched the latest episode of GoT was restricted to appointment viewing – 9pm on a Sunday evening. If you missed it, you had to catch a repeat or record it via a DVR. Some may have extended the experience through social media, chatting with other early fans who were excited to see a cherished book make it to the silver screen.

But one of the first major changes didn’t come until after season two – when the first mobile 4G network launched in the UK in October 2012. This would allow users to stream episodes via their mobile. It’s almost unimaginable to think that streaming television from your mobile simply wasn’t commonplace until five years ago.

Arguably, this was the beginning of fans getting a taste for video on the move and the ‘need it now’ trend. Unfortunately, in some circles this hunger and demand manifested itself in another way: piracy. Game of Thrones has consistently had the somewhat dubious title of most pirated show.

This was highest amongst Australians who cited a delay in airing – they had to wait almost 24 hours after an episode ran in the US before it would air down under.

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For service providers, this highlighted the importance of accessibility as we discovered some people will go through any length necessary to access the content they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

The need for knowing what’s next – but on our terms

In 2013, we saw one of the biggest revolutions in TV viewing for many years as Netflix premiered its first original series, House of Cards, and released all 13 episodes at once.

‘Binge watching’ became an increasingly common phrase as people no longer had to wait a week for what happened next and began to watch whole seasons in a weekend. (The Collins Dictionary officially named ‘binge watching’ as the term of the year shortly after.)

As GoT gained popularity, catching up on early seasons over the course of a weekend became the norm for new fans – and anyone wanting to get involved now would need to get through more than 55 hours’ worth of viewing time.

In addition to new content, this magnified another need for speed for service providers, as people streamed more video content over their home Wi-Fi® networks. Any buffering during battle or disconnection during a character death would be met with anger hotter than dragon breath.

>See also: HBO leaks continues after last week’s hack

As the fan base grew, so did online activity in the form of news, social media, podcast and videos summarising plot lines and entertaining fan theories. On the flip side, some entered online blackouts as it almost becomes impossible to avoid spoilers. One news outlet felt the wrath of fans when they tweeted some key plot lines slightly prematurely.

Technological twists and turns

As the seasons progressed, emerging technologies began breaking into the Game of Thrones experience. Ahead of the season four launch, a virtual reality experience that allowed fans to “Ascend the Wall” wowed at South by Southwest in the US. Innovations like VR promised a future where we were no longer passive viewers, but a character that witnessed events first hand.

In 2015, the HBO Now app launched in the US, allowing more people to watch the show via their mobile without a full cable subscription. A number of online games also began to surface to ensure fans didn’t miss any hidden clues or Easter eggs.

Apple’s virtual assistant Siri also started answering questions related to Thrones news and trivia, and we soon had another chatbot with which (or is it ‘who’?) you could discuss the latest episode.

Building anticipation

With two seasons remaining, anticipation has hit fever pitch, not only in terms of what will happen with the plot, but also how we’ll experience it. There was a lot of discussion about the shortened series (seven episodes for season seven, and just six for season eight) with the flip side being that episodes were approaching feature-length territory.

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Season seven’s finale will be the longest ever at 81 minutes. Some industry leaders like Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, have challenged this by suggesting episodes as short as 20 minutes might be the best format to give the increasingly mobile audience the best experience.

Beyond this, we could be looking at more widespread augmented or virtual reality experiences as mobile device functionality increases alongside higher speeds and bandwidth into the home, allowing for more data-hungry applications such as AR/ VR and UHD and 4K video. But, like guessing which character will next meet a bloody end, only time will tell.

Game of Thrones is part of the zeitgeist, and its evolution is a reflection of the delicate horse-and-cart balance between viewer demand and technological capability. ARRIS’s focus is to continue understanding and evaluating the customer experience and help service providers give fans the experience they want when they finally discover who will sit on the Iron Throne.


Sourced by Duncan Potter, senior vice president, Global Marketing at ARRIS

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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