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Spring is here. Which means winter is coming, again. The Game Of Thrones annual cycle is now in full swing and, following the typically tumultuous end of the fifth outing on TV screens as part of Sky Atlantic’s ongoing transmission of the series, the latest season of the programme is now set to arrive on DVD and Blu-ray on March 14. And HBO’s home entertainment arm is readying one of its biggest marketing campaigns thus far for the TV phenomenon of the decade. 
In this special issue of The Raygun, we’ll dissect HBO’s plans for Game Of Thrones Season 5, both in terms of high profile above the line marketing and some of its impressive promotional activity, as well as assessing its status and standing in the industry… Normal service on The Raygun will be resumed at the end of the week…
As 2016 began, the figures released by the BVA and the Official Charts Company were crystal clear in at least one respect – there, ahead of the rest of the pack as the bestselling TV programme, was Game Of Thrones. But it was more than just the one title: a whopping 40 per cent of the top 10 TV sellers of the year came from George RR Martin’s book to TV phenomenon. As the BVA noted: “Game Of Thrones dominated the official TV on video chart in 2015.” All told it sold nearly 900,000 copies across the range, adding not just volume but, crucially, value too. The higher RRP giving the market a much needed revenue boost. Leading the way in a move that bodes well for the fifth season release, was the fourth season of Game Of Thrones. In second place in the 2015 top sellers was the Seasons 1-4 box set. Intriguingly, it’s still growing and drawing in new fans, the first outing of the programme was there in the number five position. 

In its four years since HBO began releasing the series, it has shifted just shy of 3 million units across the assorted SKUs. As the BVA’s resident statistical expert Giles Finnemore said: “Game Of Thrones is worth  £24.3m to retail, it is the most valuable TV franchise out there, more than the next four – Downton Abbey, Top Gear Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead –  added together.” What’s more, incremental sales from associated product, taking in everything from Martin’s books to merchandise, has brought in more business for retailers. 
So, what's the story with this release? Well, the marketing is certainly ready to give the fifth season the kind of launch it deserves. As HBO’s Grace Alexander said: “We’re planning a full range media campaign, with TV, VOD, social, online and press advertising, as well as outdoor.”
The TV campaign will be made up of 10 and 20 second spots, airing across a mixture of Sky channels, ITV’s digital offerings, and Channel 4 and its associated offerings. It will run for 10 days from March 11, taking in both pre- and post-release slots. In terms of vod, there’s 30 second pre-roll ads across 40D, YouTube and the Videology network, which will be cut downs of the trailer created for the home entertainment release, featuring music by up-and-coming British singer Jordan Max. You can see the full trailer  here.

Meanwhile, the outdoor campaign will cover a week or two’s worth of sites across London underground stations, as well as digital six sheets in shopping mall sites around the country. Press ads include spots in the Metro and Standard as well as the Sun, Guardian and both Independent and I newspapers. Carefully targeted digital ads will feature on Amazon and Digital Spy and social media activity will include the engaging activity on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and HBO’s newly launched Instagram profile
It’s on the PR side that HBO will be having oodles of fun. The activity includes three major initiatives. The first is a gala screening on the actual release date of one of the key episodes of the fifth season, the Hardhome episode, on the big screen at one of London’s top cinemas. Better still, it’ll be screened in Dolby Atmos, the state of the art sound system developed to truly showcase series such as this, and one that HBO has helped lead the way in – Game Of Thrones is the first television series to be remastered in Dolby Atmos on Blu-ray. As HBOs Grace Alexander said: “Everybody wants the chance to see Game Of Thrones on the big screen, and this episode in particular - besides being a massive talking point for the season - also demonstrates the full impact of Dolby Atmos! We’re inviting press, fans, influencers and industry insiders and we are running both online and print competitions to allow fans the chance to win seats for themselves and friends. And for those fans that don’t manage to get tickets, we’re hosting a group viewing of the episode from our Twitter profile to encourage everyone to watch at the same time and while we share content from the screening. This content will include a Q&A taking place with two special guests at the end of the episode.” (HBO is threatening to exact a red wedding style attack on anyone who spills the beans on the special guest, so we’ll keep mum.)
There’s more PR too. “We’ve been working with the Embroiderers’ Guild on a large-scale embroidery,” said HBO’s Alexander. “It depicts one of the most striking shots from the Hardhome episode.” A network of embroiderers around the UK have been working on a square metre each, giving scores of local press and social media opportunities. “We’ll be teasing it in the lead-up,” said Alexander, ahead of a grand unveiling in central London on March 18, with it open for viewing the next day too. She added: “The location gives us natural footfall, so we’ll have a lot of passers-by over the two days. We wanted to have it on show on the Friday and Saturday so fans have plenty of opportunity to come down and see it.”

The third of the trio of initiatives sees HBO capitalising on the early date of the Easter holidays in 2016. It has teamed up with Melt chocolatier to make dragon Easter eggs. A giant one will be assembled and go on display in Selfridges on the Saturday before of release, with mini-versions sent out to key press and celebrities, giving further social media opportunities. And talking of press, a team of lucky journalists have been to Seville to see where some of the main scenes from season 5 were filmed, including Daenerys’ fighting pit
And then there’s the in-store activity. Clued-up retailers will be showing off their own exclusive SKUs, with the likes of dragonglass packaging, bonus discs, photobooks and postcards all being offered up, with plenty of point of sale support too. As HBO’s Grace Alexander said: “The retail set up is bigger than ever, with more support than ever before. With the dragon playing a big part in the creative, it’s sure to have real standout in store.”
Fans can expect plenty from the physical release itself – not east a wealth of additional features. A dozen commentaries appear on both the DVD and Blu-ray and include all kinds of gems from the assorted cast and crew who contribute. Don’t believe us? Well, take this for starters: writer and producer Bryan Cogman uses one of those commentaries to talk about one of the season’s most controversial episodes, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, breaking his silence on the wedding and aftermath which shocked so many (we’re avoiding spoilers here). His only previous pronouncement had been interpreted and twisted by critics but, here, Cogman sets the record straight. “I’m going to hijack the commentary track for just a minute to talk about this subplot,” he says, before continuing “I think it’s important to talk about because of the response this storyline got,” Cogman says. “It’s sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If you don’t talk about it, people think you’re ashamed of it; if you do talk about it, everything you say is taken out of context.” He then gives chapter and verse on the thinking behind it…
More extras come in the shape of Anatomy Of An Episode, which charts Mother’s Mercy from the first drafts through its filming; a look at The Real History Behind The Game Of Thrones; A Day In The Life, which allows the epic production in the different territories and locations it’s filmed; deleted scenes and a look at the new characters and locations. Appearing on thge Blu-ray alone is a look at Histories and Lore, which has some of the mythology of the series from the characters themselves; The Dance Of The Dragons, which features characters narrating the history of the programme throughout the seasons and an In-episode guide to the programme…
Wrapping up the campaign, HBO’s Colin Smith said: “With the trailer for Season 6 launching this week and trending worldwide to considerable buzz, Game Of Thrones season has officially begun, which is why we are so excited to go out next week and, hopefully, dominate the entertainment retail space for the coming weeks. We’re all still quite overwhelmed how a show as big as Game Of Thrones can continue to grow and find sizeable new audiences after six years, but every Facebook post and tweet and youtube comment and press release suggests that there is as much momentum for the franchise as ever. We are incredibly excited about this campaign and we are eternally grateful to the retailers, agencies, distributors and fans who continue to plough so much thought, planning and creativity into our releases.”

"There are so many fine performances here it’s difficult to single out just a few.... Benioff and Weiss have become inordinately adept at juggling an almost dizzying assortment of plots, but the manner in which those narratives intersect this time around has only enriched the show."
Variety on the fifth season…
"The level of craft and intelligence is so high here that Thrones earns the right to think of itself as doing for sword and sorcery what Coppola's Godfather trilogy did for the gangster picture: taking it seriously as modern myth without sapping it of old-fashioned entertainment value."
New York magazine
"Breathtaking, heartbreaking, awe-inspiring and addictive, it remains the single most remarkable feat of television, possibly ever, increasingly admirable for its ability to grow rather than simply sustain."
Los Angeles Times
Game Of Thrones star Maisie Williams is using her downtime between Game Of Thrones series wisely – last year’s The Falling helped her earn a wealth of strong reviews as well as awards buzz, including the likes of an Evening Standard Film Awards Rising Star gong for her role as one of the pupils caught in a strange fainting epidemic at a school. And now the GoT star, one of the bona fide discoveries of the series, has a series of other intriguing projects lined up. She’s currently filming A Storm In The Stars, a period drama that looks at the creation of Mary Woolstonecraft’s Frankenstein story out of a playful challenge at Lord Byron’s Geneva residence as well as her romance with poet Percy Shelley. Then there’s iBoy, a superhero actioner that will pair her with Bill Milner (X-Men First Class, Son Of Rambow) as a bullied lad who inadvertently develops superpowers when an attack leaves him with bits of smarthphone embeded in his skull. Rory Kinnear and Miranda Richardson co-star…
It’s two-way traffic for Game Of Thrones, as well as its stars lining up for other projects, so too are familiar names flocking to the series, with, especially, British talent turning up to join the ever-expanding cast. Not only does it keep the HBO series fresh, but it also drives further interest in the assorted goings-on in George RR Martin’s world. Latest big names to join the cast for the sixth outing of the series include Ian MacShane, already a veteran of previous HBO series Deadwood, and another familiar Brit name in the shape of Richard E Grant…
Speaking of the sixth season and the unresolved climax of the final episode is helping its popularity grow even further. Fevered speculation still surrounds the next series, due to air later after HBO’s release of the fifth outing on Blu-ray and DVD, with a will-he-won’t-he question mark surrounding the future of Jon Snow, as played by Kit Harington. Want more proof? The release of a poster for the new series in December earned more than 1 million likes, shares and comments when it was launched via Facebook, the most the series had earned since 2012…

Follow HBO on @hbo_uk for updates on all Game Of Thrones activity…
Here’s the fans’ reaction to the end of S5, from a special HBO screening in 2015…
And here’s the full trailer for S5 on Blu-ray and DVD…
And let’s not forget, this is on the way from HBO…
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