Yesterday, Boston-based research firm Latitude released its latest study on the future of storytelling and focused on television’s hottest property: HBO’s Game of Thrones. A key finding, which helps explain this age of television, is that massive audience does not have to mean minuscule intelligence and, in fact, thrives on complexity.
“What’s especially compelling about the success of Game of Thrones is how the series’ narrative complexity actually works as an advantage, providing various threads for a diverse audience of fans to follow,” says Andy Wiltshire, lead strategist at Latitude, in the study’s press release.
That’s because fandom for Game of Thrones does not stop with the season finale. Fueled by the George R.R. Martin books, of course, easily re-watching the episodes via HBO Go, the cosplay, and many other examples of fandom, the brand has become a self-propelling machine.
How that happens is what got Latitude looking into the vicious otherworld and they used an interesting two-step method to find out why fans connect:
First, we asked 20 people to tell us about their routines and rituals around the HBO show – all through self-recorded video. Next, we compiled their responses into a mini-documentary and presented it to a larger audience of fans (n=200) via our cloud application, Lumière. As they watched the collage of input, these fans interactively provided their own feedback regarding the ideas expressed.”
A whole list of gratifications emerged, including wickedly complex characters (in a wide range of shapes and sizes), plots that don’t always end up bright and cheery (not your average wedding episode, for instance), the ability to talk in depth with others about those complexities, the sci-fi world it evokes, etc.
The report also found a curious complexity within the viewers themselves. Despite massive reception (18 million nears the viewership of the Sochi Olympics, Latitude reports) fans still believe they are watching something a little too smart for the average TV viewer. Less than 1/3 of all fans surveyed agreed with the statement that a GoT fan, “could be anyone.” If a fan read the book series, that percentage dropped even lower.
On the other hand, close to 2/3 of respondents agreed with the statement that they were, “more intelligent than Twilight fans, or even Lord of the Rings fans.”
The report explains: “Viewers shy away from calling the show mainstream because of the intimate relationships they are able to form with the show’s characters, and thus, with each other. With such a large viewership, GoT fans still act, move, and socialize like a much more niche audience.”
Not long ago the niche fan had to work hard to find her or his community. It meant meeting at the Comics store, conventions or the right section of the arcade. A little more recently, it meant finding obscure chat rooms. But these days a niche is both highly specific and easily findable, so it can be mainstream and still be authentic. For a client of Latitude’s, this is an enticing piece of fruit that hopefully spurs even more complex plots and characters.
For fans who identify with that superiority, it’s not the bad news it might seem. Yes, delving into Game of Thrones may not mean you’re that special, but a large and diverse community easily found can help viewers join their particular tribe in that great expanse of Internet chatter that feels “beyond the wall” most days.