Everyone is talking about last night’s “Game of Thrones” finale, but they’re not just talking. Fans of the fantasy drama are tweeting, tumbling, and posting fan videos to YouTube by the thousands. Fan communities on social media are becoming an increasingly important part of “social TV,” the dialogue the surrounds popular programs. Watching a show is now just a small part of an experience that stretches across multiple platforms and conversation. “Game of Thrones,” with its massive cast and bloody plot twists, is understandably one of the most buzzed about shows on social media and a prime example of the social TV experience.
According to a report released by YouTube marketing group Zefr, “Game of Thrones” content from the show’s official HBO-sanctioned YouTube channel has racked up some impressive statistics: over 171,395,948 views and a not inconsiderable 928,776 dedicated subscribers. However, those impressive figures represent just a little over 10 percent of the total “Game of Thrones” content on YouTube. A staggering 89.3 percent of related content is comprised of fan-created tributes, music videos, compilations, and reaction videos.
Traditionally, fan content has been greeted with skepticism from networks and production studios. Those videos usually contain copyrighted audio and video, and as such has frequently been the target of takedown requests by networks looking to preserve control over their own material. Recently, however, with the help of market research, networks have come to see the underlying value in fan content and the high levels of engagement that it both engenders and encourages. The fan experience, in summary, is driving viewers back to TV in larger numbers, and helping to hold them there.
Competition between traditional television networks is at an all-time high. Furthermore, digital media is increasingly providing a viable alternative for viewers and more lucrative and less censored alternative for creators. In this environment, fan content, the Zefr report suggests, can help to bridge the game between episodes and seasons. The loyalty of TV viewers has always been fickle. By supporting a strong fan community to enhance and extend the viewing experience shows like “Game of Thrones” may have unlocked the secret of viewer retention. YouTube is often described as the television of the future, or the destroyer of television as we know it. This new data suggests that far from replacing or destroying television, YouTube’s social video environment may be the key to keeping it alive.