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June 5, 2019

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Game of Thrones and the Return of Appointment Viewing

For the first time in three months, we didn’t gather over the weekend to watch a highly anticipated episode or behind-the-scenes special for Game of Thrones. There are no more seasons to look forward to, no plot twists to speculate over, and no more dramatic deaths to tally up for the office pool. We can easily go down the rabbit hole of lamenting or celebrating the story-telling decisions that were made – but let’s also take a step back and see what Game of Thrones meant to the TV-viewing audience as a whole.

Bringing back appointment viewing.

When was the last time you had a weekly standing appointment with a television show, aside from Game of Thrones? The idea that a show needs to be consumed and digested the moment it becomes available has been largely dismissed with the invention of streaming, and the sheer amount of content now available to audiences. Nowadays, with the exception of event-based programming such as live sports and award shows, people tend to watch their favourite shows on their own schedule, not at a time slot designated by a network.

For many fans it was a necessity to watch Game of Thrones live when it aired on HBO. The shocking nature of the show, made famous by a narrative that kept no heroes safe, created a constant fear that spoilers would ruin your viewing experience if you waited too long. Seconds after any major plot twists or character deaths the internet was alight with discussions, all too revealing headlines, memes, and gifs. Even for those that didn’t mind spoilers, there was a certain excitement and sense of camaraderie in being a part of the social conversation, online and in-person with friends and colleagues.

Coupled with the fact that this was the hyped final season, the show brought the fanfare of appointment viewing back to the collective consciousness for the first time in years. In Canada alone, the premiere of Game of Thrones was watched by 2.9 million people – breaking the Canadian Entertainment Specialty and Pay TV linear viewership records. Game of Thrones brought back the desire for audiences to experience a show together and at the same time.

Around the watercooler once again.

As content consumption habits have changed so too have conversations around it. It’s no longer assumed that everyone watches the same shows every weeknight because options have expanded from simply what was “on” to having almost every show ever created at our fingertips. The conversations are less a discussion about a single show that all parties have watched, and more about what they’ve watched themselves or would recommend. As we have fewer shared experiences through TV, it’s sometimes a surprise and a delight to find out that someone, or even a group of people, watch the same shows as we . Game of Thrones was one of the few modern outliers to this.

Over the past six weeks, Game of Thrones re-introduced regular “watercooler talk” to the Touchwood PR office. While we don’t have a watercooler, we do have a boardroom table, and it became the setting of a regular Monday morning meeting to go over the latest episode. The show allowed for so much speculation and theorizing that it inspired in-depth discussions and debates which were sometimes more satisfying than the episodes themselves. The show created a shared interest, outside of our work and clients, that we were all invested in. As corny as it sounds, this show created a bonding experience for us.

This show also created a bonding experience for a global audience. By developing a show that was ripe with easy talking points, the creators of Game of Thrones extended the life of the show into the daily lives of its viewers, something many other modern series have yet to achieve. Whatever the next TV phenomenon might be, it will have to share this same intrinsic trait of inspiring conversation.

What’s next?

Game of Thrones connected people around the world with a show that demanded immediacy, discussion, and debate. This dynamic connection is rare to come across these days and the question remains to be seen as to when we will be brought back together in the same way. We at Touchwood, who run the gambit in fandoms and content formats, are always on the lookout for the next big things to dig into. In early 2019 it was Game of Thrones. Right now it’s the Raptors’ rise to victory. What’s next?

We’re not the only ones paying attention either. Not only were people hosting viewing parties at their homes (HBO subscribers were at the top of their social ladders during the season), but local businesses and event venues were also joining in on Sunday nights. Watching a favourite show used to be an activity for the comfort of your home and couch, but people flocked to these places to watch Game of Thrones with complete strangers. Cineplex Events hosted live screenings of the series finale so that fans could watch it with the same cinematic fanfare of a movie, as they are currently doing with the NBA finals, and have done in the past with the Superbowl. Could this be a trend in the entertainment industry, or is appointment viewing truly a thing of the past? Could we have filled the Rogers Centre, like Star Trek fans did two and a half decades ago for the series finale of The Next Generation?

Collectively, we’ve spent far too many hours watching videos, series, and movies on a laptop screen – alone. We’d rather be sharing our viewing experience, whether on a full living room couch or a theatre full of mega fans. We don’t know what or when the next cultural television phenomenon will be, but we’re excited to see if it might spark another return of appointment viewing.