Scenes from Season 1 of “Game of Thrones” were filmed at Doune Castle in Scotland.
Helen Sloan | HBO
If you’re heading to a “Game of Thrones” watch party this weekend, you might already be waxing nostalgic about the end of appointment television. Is this the last time you’ll ever gather with your friends to watch a show, knowing so many others are watching it at the same time, ready to discuss it real time on Twitter or the next day at the proverbial water cooler?
My guess is no.
The shift away from traditional TV has some people lamenting (here, here, here) that GoT will be the last “shared experience” show, where Americans tune in at a certain time to watch weekly episodes and find out storylines together at the same time.
There’s logic to the argument. Many of today’s hot shows — “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Stranger Things,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” — originate on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu, where the entire appeal is the ability to watch episodes whenever you want, or to binge-watch entire seasons in one sitting.
The whole notion of turning on your TV at a certain time is evaporating.
So why is “Game of Thrones,” whose season premiere drew more than 17 million households on HBO, such an exception?
Because the nature of winning the Iron Throne makes GoT less like a traditional scripted show and more like a reality competition, meant to be watched live.
Hollywood is a copycat industry. If people like something, it doesn’t go ignored. And people like group watching — especially for final seasons of shows.
Just watch this reaction during the most recent “Game of Thrones,” captured on Twitter.
Netflix has upended TV watching by giving consumers what they want — lower prices, no commercials, entire season releases.
But as long as consumers want shared viewing experiences (and they do), streaming platforms will come around and begin to offer them.
It’s also great for advertisers
The holy grail for advertising-driven media — both traditional and social — is engagement. Live events are crucial for mediums like Twitter and traditional TV because you get a bunch of eyeballs in the same place at the same time. That’s what advertisers crave.
Netflix may not have ads today, but industry experts think that can’t last forever. There’s no way the entire media industry is going to turn its back from millions in revenue.
For zeitgeist shows on streaming platforms, my guess is that final seasons — or a handful of episodes — will eventually be launched one at a time to generate buzz both for the show and the subscription service it’s on while creating advertising opportunities on the side. A streaming service will pick a time — say, 9 p.m. on a Sunday — and roll out episodes just as “Game of Thrones” and so many linear TV shows before it have done.
That way, you can still have your viewing party or go to your local bar and participate on Twitter — or whatever the next social network is — while watching together.
Plus, HBO and other popular networks aren’t going to disappear. Even if companies like AT&T, the new owner of HBO, prioritize streaming services, we’ll probably still get another traditional TV hit, rolled out one episode at a time, in the next five to 10 years.
Right now, streaming services are unbundling the pay-TV ecosystem. But platforms will inevitably bundle them together for a discount, just like today’s cable TV.
Those same services are killing shared viewing, but they’ll bring that back too. In the entertainment business, what’s old is new again.