GAME OF THRONES: THE END IS NIGH
FRANCHISE SALES WORTH MORE THAN £100 MILLION
RETAIL: “EACH RELEASE IS AN EVENT”
AS SERIES ENDS, FANS “FEEL EMPTY”
S8 DRAWS RECORD AUDIENCES
PHYSICAL HOME ENT HITS SHELVES ON DECEMBER 2
LAVISH BOX SET LEADS THE WAY
CAST REVEAL BEHIND THE SCENES SECRETS
HBO: NOT JUST THE END, IT’S A CELEBRATION
EVENT KICKS OFF CAMPAIGN
STARS TAKE TO STAGE AT BFI
ARTWORK THAWS OUT
TARGETED ADS LEAD THE WAY
WINTERFELL BECOMES A REALITY FOR COMMUTERS
INFLUENCERS REWARDED FOR SUPPORT
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Ten years. Seventy-three episodes. More than 70 hours – or more than 4,200 minutes. Winter, it appears, is finally here. For after having spent much of the decade warning viewers and consumers that “winter is coming”, Game Of Thrones, the television and home entertainment sensation of the century, is coming to an end. The eighth and final season has finished airing on television, and now all that’s left is the small matter of the physical home entertainment release of the final word in the saga of Winterfell and the families warring over the Iron Throne. It arrives in multiple SKUs on December 2 and to mark the occasion, we’re sending a special edition of The Raygun, a one-off newsletter devoted to celebrating the series and previewing HBO UK’s release of series in eighth season and complete series versions across different formats.
Game Of Thrones in its previous seven series has been a bona fide home entertainment phenomenon. The series, across multiple SKUs and seven different seasons, released in both separate and complete series sets, has rarely been out of the Official Charts Company’s TV listings over the past 10 years or so, achieving lifetime sales totalling more than 50 million physical units worldwide. As HBO's Ian Fullerton said: "Game of Thrones has been a landmark TV franchise. It’s taken 'epic tv' to the next level, proved that complicated and intricate plotting can reach a mass audience, it’s made fantasy cool without the hint of a hobbit, invented 'sexposition', set a new template for TV characters being killed off early and put in place a high benchmark for how bad a wedding can go. It’s set new records for sales with almost 50 million DVDs and Blu-rays sold worldwide and proved that TV home entertainment has a place at retail. And the heartening news is that it isn’t over yet. With a new prequel series coming and a Studio Tour planned for next year plus the hope of a new book from George R.R. Martin, there’s still a lot of life in the franchise.”
For retailers, Game Of Thrones has consistently been the bestselling television series since its inception. But more than that, it has also brought excitement to stores, with HBO helping make each successive boxset a true event release. Make no mistake – each home entertainment release has been a genuine phenomenon. As hmv’s Andy Anderson said: “In terms of revenue, it’s got to be the biggest TV title of the past 10 years. It’s something we’ve always looked forward to – eight times we’ve had really excited customers, buyers, managers and store staff. Eight times we’ve had Game Of Thrones releases and eight times it’s been an event. You don’t get eight films in a franchise where everyone one is an event. Game Of Thrones hasn’t just brought the sales and revenues at a boxset level either – it’s the excitement it generates in stores. People come in dressed up to buy it, the store staff get dressed up too. It’s consistent as well. It hasn’t had the diminishing returns you’d normally get from a series that goes on for 10 years. It’s so far above everything else in the genre. Even when there’s not been a release, the campaigns have worked, HBO has used it strategically for campaigns.”
And so to the final series. The sword, and an axe, a dagger and numerous other weapons, have been hanging over the TV phenomenon of the 21st century since it was announced that the series would end with the eighth season. “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. Overall, I think, it won.” The debate has raged throughout TV transmission of the final series of Game Of Thrones and beyond and is set to continue throughout the lifetime of the home entertainment release, across the repeat viewings of not just the eighth season of the series, but throughout its seven predecessors too. The Guardian’s final line in its final review, noted above, is one of the best pay-off lines in the multitude of reviews received by the programmer in its final outings, as was reviewer Lucy Mangan’s opening line: “And so, at last, after 73 episodes, untold millions of dollars and an estimated 200,000 slayings, it is all over – bar the shouting on the internet.” The fan debate has been raging since its ending months back, and will continue long afterwards. But, as one fan noted (again, on the Guardian): “I feel empty now.”
The audience numbers show the huge impact of the show, notably in its final season, as the climactic end to the series drew its best viewing figures ever. As with home entertainment sales, the viewing figures for Game Of Thrones buck the expected trends for TV programmes, disproving the law of diminishing returns and audiences by growing in popularity some 10 years down the line. The numbers speak for themselves: the final episode drew 5.879 million viewers, the biggest for any final episode of any previous season, besting the last series’ 5.17 million by some 12 per cent. The first episode had already smashed records itself – 3.39 million viewers tuned in on the first day it aired, up 20 per cent on the premiere of S7, while 192,000 super-fans, the kind who are almost certain to buy the physical release, watched it live at 2am when it screened at the same time as the US debut (the American bow on HBO drew in a massive 17.4 million viewers, incidentally). The biggest episode of the final series, the second, A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms was the biggest of the whole series, drawing in 7.1 million viewers once the assorted playback options were totted up. The average cumulative audience was more than 6 million, this too was up on the previous series – a rise of 28 per cent on the seventh season’s average of 4.76 million. Oh, and the social media was massive too, with 80 million impressions on Sky Atlantic's channels, up 60 per cent on S7, with 8 million total engagements, a whopping 100 per cent increase).
And so, a sure as day follows night, as the series was nearing the end of its run on Sky Atlantic, HBO UK’s marketing team was already on to the EST release and, beyond that, the physical too. The date for the latter was earmarked as December 2, with HBO vowing to go out on a high, playing up to the heritage of the series in addition to its climax.
As you’d expect with Game Of Thrones, there are a raft of different SKUs available, with both Season 8 and The Complete Collection, containing every episode and every season, are both released in standard DVD and Blu-ray formats. There’s also a 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Steelbook out on the same date. But the mother of all box sets is the lavish wooden shadow box case, with multi-panel layered designs by artist Robert Ball summarising the Game Of Thrones saga. As HBO noted in its announcement: “Each season is represented by a different layer, showcasing iconic characters and memorable moments from the show, all clambering toward the Iron Throne.” The nine custom-plated disc sleeves are held together with an exclusive Hand Of The King pin clasp. As with previous outings, there are exclusives too – Sainsbury's and Argos have an exclusive bonus disc and House Stark sleeve; hmv has, as with previous seasons, an exclusive photobook, enabling diehard fans to complete their collections.
“No long beard, no pointy shoes.” Peter Dinklage’s insistence, when he was first approached about appearing in what many, even those involved with it, considered to be an unfilmable series of books, that he would sport neither in Game Of Thrones, is one of the many hilarious secrets revealed in Conan O’Brien: Reunion Special, one of the highlights of the wealth of additional features and extras featured on the Game Of Thrones release. The feature length show sees the US TV host and personality taking to the stage in Belfast and bringing the cast back together again for one last chat and chinwag. It includes anyone who was anyone in the series, with the separate families coming on to the stage. Part of it was screened at the Game Of Thrones Celebration event that helped kickstart HBO’s campaign for the release, and it wowed the crowd of diehard GoT fanatics making of the series, there, showing its worth as value-added material. It’s part of a wealth of extra material that includes a two-part documentary The Last Watch, looking at the making of the final season. There’s also a 30-minute featurette with showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss looking closely at the making of the Battle Of Winterfell episode, and another analysing the final episode The Iron Throne. There are also 10 audio commentaries featuring cast and crew, as well as a raft of never seen before deleted and extended scenes, as well as Histories and Lore, an animated segment giving background and history to storylines and locations.
The release date, packaging and contents set, HBO then worked out how it was going to market the physical release. Although many of the pre-orders come in the last few weeks ahead of release, HBO plumped for a long build up to maximise interest after broadcast ended and during the EST selling. As HBO’s Lindsay Seager noted: “As this was the final release, and a celebration, we wanted to build from June. The press release went out and we got some amazing coverage.” HBO then sat down to plan out the rest of the release strategy. Key to the company’s thinking was the idea that it wasn’t just about the final season, it went far beyond that too. “We didn’t want to focus too strongly on just the franchise coming to an end, we wanted this new release to be a celebration of a breath taking eight seasons. And we wanted to have the Complete Series be front and centre as well as the single season this Christmas.” HBO played up some of that heritage during its pre-order campaign, using clips from earlier seasons and unseen material from the previous releases to highlight the complete sets as much as the individual final season release. And as the campaign rolled on, HBO all ramped up the conversations about S8, highlighting its off the scale production value, epic battles and much awaited reunions between our favourite characters.
The pre-order push dovetailed with the campaign proper with a huge bash at the BFI Southbank. Billed as Game Of Thrones: A Celebration: the major event to mark the end of the series and the impending release. Fans and invited guests at the BFI’s Southbank auditorium were treated to a major part of the Reunion Special (it went down a storm), and further Q&As live in the flesh with a selection of both cast and crew from the programme. One separate panel was made up of some of the technical wizards behind the programme, Michele Clapton (costumes), Barrie Gower, Sarah Gower (prosthetics and make-up and Tommy Dunne (weapons). The cast panel was made up of Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark), Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy), Kristofer Hijvu (Tormund). The event was hosted by radio and TV personality Edith Bowman, with the audience constantly reminded of the reason for the event – the impending DVD and Blu-ray release, with the host constantly reminding those present of the release date.
The Game Of Thrones A Celebration event saw the BFI’s Southbank home decked out in point of sale and GoT-related artwork throughout the venue and its labyrinthine corridors and walkways, as well as the foyer (there was an iron throne there for photo opportunities) and on screens; all carrying a pre-order and release date message as well as the different SKUs available. As for the event itself, there was much to revel in in the Q&As with the cast and crew; it also highlighted why fans will lap up the home entertainment release and their ability to talk about the programme and the seismic effect it had. As Isaac Hempstead Wright noted: “I get asked a lot what it was like growing up on Game Of Thrones. I really don't know any different. It was a very surreal position that was like normality. I met these brilliant people, I worked in an adult word. There were all these things you don’t think about when you're a 10 year old, Game Of Thrones really is like a family. There were these unique coincidences – the right time, right people, right roles, right crew. It just gelled. Relationships came out of it, I had these fantastic role models people to learn from. It was the best school you could go to. And I had the best character arc of anyone.”
HBO UK has excelled in its marketing efforts for Game Of Thrones and has added elements and refined its efforts for the final series of the programme. The main thrust of activity is made up of (deep breath) display, vod, social, press, out of home, digital… The imagery and artwork being used, particularly for the out of home and outdoor activity, also represents a subtle shift in HBO’s creative. Whereas for the early seasons the imagery was focused on the “winter is coming” theme, with dark and cold colours used. But by the end not only had winter arrived, but with the flames and heat being turned up as the final outing progressed, the artwork reflects that thaw and the melting and burning. As Lindsay Seager noted: “We’re using that across out of home, press and above the line, it all has the same feel.”
The more innovative elements in the marketing campaign will see HBO using contextual marketing via GumGum; this will see ads appearing around relevant content – if a consumer searches for gift ideas, they will be served Game Of Thrones ads. In terms of vod ads, as well as using TrueView for YouTube, HBO is also working with the Premier League and its app using pre-roll ads. ITV VOD ads on its hub service will focus on the likes of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Also on the social side, HBO is working with digital agency Wilderness on using Game Of Thrones to grow and optimise its channels.
Commuters and passengers, as well as, we’d suspect, a few Game Of Thrones fans at key London stations will be able to take on the identities of key characters and place themselves in key locations in Westeros and the Game Of Thrones world thanks to a special augmented reality Magic Mirror activity at Paddington, Waterloo and Victoria. Taking place on December 3, HBO believes its reach will be far wider than the three central London locations. As Lindsay Seager said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for fans to step into the shoes of their favourite characters and experience the landscapes of Westeros while on their daily commute. We’re hopeful the reach will extend past the station, when fans share their participation on social media”
While the Game Of Thrones Celebration event at the BFI Southbank was the focus for much of the PR push for the final Game of Thrones release (“we've achieved incredible coverage throughout the year," noted HBO's Lindsay Seager), there’s still more to come. Activity around release date will include a raft of press drops and similar elements. Key GoT fans and influencers will be receiving packages including certificates and awards for their “outstanding contribution” to GoT fandom, acknowledging their work. There will also be plenty of gift guide coverage, as well as unboxing videos for the lavish boxset.
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