Why Game of Thrones ruled our schedules, and what will take up that time next
Interest in HBO’s Game of Thrones seems to be peaking as the series gets set to end for good Sunday night.
The political/fantasy/zombie epic with several buddy and road movies embedded has reached that rare level of pop culture relevance where people who don’t even watch the show are now talking about it. What’s more, people are now regularly talking about how much people are talking about the show.
‘It’s been a wild ride and is clearly one of the most important of the cable appointment-viewing programs of its era,’ said Rick Stevens, a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Appointment viewing is the rapidly disappearing concept of planning your schedule around when a particular show or event is available to watch. Before the advent of streaming, on-demand TV services and YouTube, almost all viewing was appointment viewing, but today it’s a designation primarily enjoyed by live sports and one-off events like the Academy Awards.
Thrones has managed to buck the trend and maintain its status as one of the last dramatic series to command an appointment-viewing audience. Stevens say this is thanks to die-hard fans who devour each episode as soon as it becomes available to participate in the online discussion around it.
‘More people watched the Sopranos, but the extension of Game of Thrones fan discourse into social media spaces and conventions has been something unique … It’s the sense of the cultural moment, the access to relevant conversations, and the fear of spoilers that fuel the drive for appointment viewing.’
If the past five Sundays of your life have been anything like what’s gone down in my house, you know that GoT night doesn’t end with the credits and watching (perhaps hate-watching is more accurate for some) the ‘behind the episode’ commentary with producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
What comes next is at least a solid 20 minutes of cruising Twitter and Instagram for the best reactions and most hilarious memes inspired by what millions of us all just watched.
‘For Game of Thrones, participating in the reaction media that quickly spreads across social media platforms during or immediately after programming is a key part of the participatory feel to a fan,’ Stevens said. ‘Within seconds, reaction posts and videos flow into people’s networks, within an hour memes begin to shape.’
Stevens says he’s heard the chatter that GoT will mark the last appointment-viewing show, but he suspects that’s not actually the case and others will emerge soon. The big mystery is which show has enough juice to replace the epic struggle for the Iron Throne?
Stevens doesn’t see another obvious ongoing replacement.
‘Walking Dead is an ongoing example of a show that was once as prominent as Game of Thrones. Westworld is another current example, though its fan base is smaller than Game of Thrones,’ he said, adding that science fiction and fantasy don’t overlap as much as some people think. ‘HBO’s Watchmen series might become one of those, though I suspect it won’t have quite the broad-based appeal of Game of Thrones.’
The next Game of Thrones could easily be something no one is watching just yet, like one of the many comic books, fantasy novels or sci-fi works that have been optioned in the wake of GoT’s success, like HBO’s upcoming His Dark Materials.