Game of Thrones may be over, but its impact will live on

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that this week saw the much-hyped finale of Game of Thrones, the eight-series fantasy tour de force that has taken the world by storm. It’s no secret that linear TV viewing is decreasing, whilst Video on Demand viewership is on the rise, but Game of Thrones successfully bucked this linear TV trend and smashed the ratings out of the park.

Linear TVs decline is currently happening across the board demographically, with younger audiences leading the charge. The number of linear TV ads seen by 16-34-year-olds on Sky and Channel 4 fell by 23% YOY in January and February, whilst ITV2 (the home of Love Island) saw a decline of 15%. Generation X and Baby Boomers are those who continue to watch linear TV, devoting significantly longer periods of their day watching it compared to Generation Z and Millennials who are more drawn to online forms of TV.

With the help of technological advances, viewing trends are continually pushing towards Video on Demand (VOD) such as ITV Hub and All 4, and subscription-based Video-on-Demand (SVoD) like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The growth of SVoD is indisputable. In the UK 2019 alone SVoD has seen a 2.9% YoY Revenue growth to £757m, while between 2017 and 2019 the number of subscribers rose from 14.7m to 17.7m, with that figure expected to hit 20.6m in 2023. This trend runs parallel to the huge improvements in TV experience.

The Game of Thrones supremacy challenges these trends, with an estimated 192,000 Brits staying up to watch the first episode of the final season live, while within the next 24 hours 3.39m had watched the episode on linear TV. A significant number of people will have also viewed the episode on BVoD platforms. BARB’s ‘Four Screen Dashboard’ claims a total of 342,556 individuals watched this on Sky Q & Sky Go.

But despite the spoilers that were immediately spread across social media, broadcast on breakfast TV and radio or published in the press, the finale was still a win for modern viewing habits, receiving 3.2m live viewers alone.

Big TV moments have been major news since the early days of appointment to view TV – think Charlene’s wedding, Who shot JR? and Save Dierdre – but in recent years it is rare that a TV show will be watched live by so many people, regardless of what time it is broadcast (GoT aired at 2am in the UK to coincide with the US transmission).

Where there is a media sensation, there is an opportunity for brands to get involved, whether that’s through premium ad spots in the live TV broadcast, ad creative that piggybacks on the theme of the show, or social media campaigns timed to coincide with the finale. Advertisers didn’t seem to need much of an excuse to GoT-ify their comms.

Early reports show a huge uplift for those brands who have taken the leap. Ikea reported a 495% social uplift after appearing in an ad break earlier in the series, while O2 and BT are said to have enjoyed similar success.

These trends are driving new approaches to targeting and advertising. Some brands are now tailoring their creatives to target fans of programmes, or purposely making new creatives to feature during these programmes.

A great – and unexpected – example of this is the Aldi toilet roll advert which featured throughout Game of Thrones. Aside from Aldi, several brands have approached this type of ‘tailored’ advertisement, and results have been staggering. An example is KFCs 2017 Parody ‘Lunch Time is coming’ featuring the Game of Thrones character Hodor. This advert echoes a landmark scene from within the programme and aired during Season 7’s opening episode. After broadcast the advert was watched 32m times online (24m organically) and became KFC UKs most successful social post to date.

While product placement is still a divisive issue – people will always disagree about whether it’s ‘editorially justified’ or just plain clunky – these types of ads that creatively mirror the show into which they are being played are fast becoming a viable alternative to product placement. However, where product placement features the brand mid-programme, the increasingly popular style of ads that mimic the show but sit outside the content itself, still manage to make users feel the brand or product is also part of the programme. They are in-sync with the feel of the show, staying true to the viewers’ fully immersed state of mind. I would go so far as to suggest that this type of advertising is TV’s equivalent of native ads.

Game of Thrones was not only an undisputed phenomenon but has paved the way for reminding advertisers what opportunities can exist within linear TV. Which is all great news for the sector: hard as it is to believe for the bereft fans, it is only a matter of time before there is a bigger, better equivalent to Game of Thrones hitting our screens, and brands will already be working out how to up their game to get a slice of the action.

By Leonidas Kallou, Investment Executive