Screened in more than 170 countries, Game of Thrones occupies the lofty perch of being a successful cult. The term is at once contradictory and fitting for a program which defies logic by continually growing in popularity. The last series – the sixth so far – saw US audiences reach 9.3 million per episode.
Unusually, the profile of the show’s fans is not dominated by one gender. In 2013, it was found 58% of the audience was male, 42% female. Compare this to Star Trek or The Sopranos, which were male-dominated, and the cultural impact of the program becomes more understandable.
George R.R. Martin, author of the books – A Song of Fire and Ice – upon which the show is based, is no stranger to cult television, having previously been a scriptwriter on the Twilight Zone among other programs. He sees a big future for the franchise.
Speaking in 2014, he declared a vision which saw the story transferring to the silver screen, to tie up the loose ends of the books. Martin declared that the budget for the film would need to be “$100 million for two hours”; the dragons “get real big!”
It’s visually successful because program makers HBO devoted a significant budget, estimated to be between $6m – $10m per episode – to the series. No swaying props that dogged many an episode of Neighbours in years gone by. Using the rugged landscapes of Iceland and Ireland gave a natural, earthy feel to the locations of Westeros.
The cable channel dipped its’ toe in the movie waters with the final two episodes of the fourth series shown in 205 IMAX cinemas, taking almost $1.5m at the box office, enough to see it finish 15th overall in that weekend’s U.S. revenues.
If anyone doubts the series success, the Guinness Book of World Records declared that Games of Thrones was the most pirated television program, a record it held since the second series was aired in 2012.
It’s hardly surprising. The show’s broad appeal comes from the fantasy theme, inspired from European history. The Houses of Lannister and Stark draw on the Tudors and Yorks from the English War of the Roses, while the Wildlings are the manifestation of the tribes which roamed the continent at the time.
Mix that historical appeal with storylines of power, violence, sex, intrigue, incest and everything from birth to death, and it’s not hard to see why the program caught the public imagination. It’s a televisual Sodom and Gomorrah, dragged through the ages, with enough to keep audiences captivated and conversations flowing around the coffee machines of the world.
The books enjoyed a resurgence in popularity off the back of the television shows success despite the divergence between the two. The timeline of Martin’s novels stopped being adhered to as strictly during the second series of the show with the scripts taking a broader approach through the series of books. The interest in the books is showing no sign of abating despite this but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Engaging with the audience via social media is the key to the show’s revenues from merchandising and licenses.
While the headlines can be grabbed by the sale of replica Iron Thrones at $30,000, it is Game of Thrones’ enduring presence on social media which makes it attractive to the commercial sectors. Traditional avenues such as live concerts, t-shirts, posters and DVD’s still contribute heavily but as online activity continues to increase, the virtual world takes a larger slice of the pie.
With an engaged social media following, it’s no surprise that the franchise enjoys sustained commercial success in this field. Online casinos such as Betway Casino, feature Game of Thrones slots, while there are a multitude of role-playing games fit to play on one’s smart phone or tablet device.
Perhaps the best judge of the impact of a franchise comes with hardcore fans. In the same way that Trekkies learned Klingon, Dothraki and Valerian are the languages du jour of the devoted Game of Thrones fan now available to learn as a summer class from Berkeley University.
The real test comes with religion. Over 390,000 declared themselves “Jedi” in the England and Wales census of 2001, although that number almost halved a decade later. If The Faith of the Seven follows that lead, Game of Thrones may endure far longer than the end of season eight when the television series finishes.