Given the growing amount of on-screen-viewing content, the number of programs that achieve cult status is increasingly rare. HBO's (Home Box Office's) The Sopranos (1999–2007) was the first to do so. During the time the series aired, the crime-drama series won 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, 5 Golden Globes, and 2 Peabody Awards. No original-series program, however, can compete with HBO's Game of Thrones (GoT; 2011–17). At the conclusion of its sixth season in 2016, GoT and cast members had garnered 612 award nominations and 212 wins. (GoT season 7 did not air in time to be eligible for the 2017 Emmy Awards.)
In an era of fragmented viewing and rating declines as series progress, GoT is bucking the trend. The number of viewers has increased from 2.2 million for episode 1 in 2011, to 12.07 million in season 7. In fact, Nielsen reports that for the week of 21 August 2017, GoT was the number-one-rated cable program with a 6.4 rating (12.1 million viewers), in comparison with a 7.3 rating for broadcast TV's most popular program, America's Got Talent (12.6 million viewers).
VALS data about GoT viewers is unavailable from our national data partner, GfK MRI. However, a thorough understanding of the VALS consumer groups, along with some general data, can provide direction about which consumers are most likely to watch Game of Thrones.
Cinemax, HBO, Showtime, and Starz are the top four premium cable networks. More adults watched HBO in the past 30 days (22%) than watched Showtime (14%) or Starz (13%) or Cinemax (8%). Innovators and Experiencers are above average for HBO viewing. These same two groups are also above average for using video on demand to watch HBO. Innovators is the only group more likely than average to watch HBO on a computer or smartphone.
If you've ever watched GoT or read the books by George R. R. Martin, you understand that the story line is complicated and that the well-developed characters are unique and highly individualist. The story takes place in a very politicized fantasy world fraught with intrigue as kings plot to sit on the iron throne. Add to this premise the series' high-quality production values: sets and costumes; gloriously real, bitter battles; nudity; adult language; and flying dragons (reminiscent of dragons in the movie Avatar). Constantly teasing viewers to watch the next episode and the next (sometimes delayed) season, GoT capitalizes on the ability to target audience appeal. In total, the series has the strongest appeal to creative, imaginative, individualist Innovators, followed by Experiencers.
Innovators and Experiencers are clearly driving the on-demand streaming of original content, and the question is always how to generate the next hit. A deeper understanding of these groups can guide editorial choices and could serve, for example, in more qualitative studies of entertainment choices.
Television viewing used to be free and simple. Between 1956 and 1986, three big networks dominated over-the-air television broadcasting: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Fox (from 1985) is now one of the big four networks. The first fee-based services were for cable. Cable subscriptions enabled millions of homes in geographies previously blocked by mountains or high buildings to gain clear television reception. Subscription services such as HBO in 1972, Showtime (a subsidiary of CBS) in 1976, Starz in 1994, and Cinemax (owned by HBO) in 1980 expanded viewer choice. In 1997, when DVD players debuted in the United States, Netflix (a feature-film provider) began offering a mail-subscription service. In the twenty-first century (2000), cable systems switched from analog to digital; Netflix began streaming movie delivery to subscribers. As a method to keep content interesting and fresh, Netflix commissioned its first original series—House of Cards—in 2013; by 2016, Netflix had released about 126 original series or films. In 2013, Amazon Studios began offering original series programming such as Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent to Amazon Prime members. The number of viewing choices is currently overwhelming. Very few choices are free.
As the cost of premium-cable services continues to increase, many people are choosing to abandon cable. Business Insider reports that cable subscribers in the United States have decreased in number from 50.4 million in 2014 to 49.1 million in 2016 (down 3%). However, the number of broadband subscribers in the same period increased from 50.3 million to 56.3 million. People who cancel a cable subscription are commonly "cord cutters."
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