Let the Bloodletting Begin -- What TV Can Learn from 'Game of Thrones'

Three Lessons the TV Industry Can Take from Popular HBO Show

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To say that the TV industry is undergoing a massive shift is a ridiculous understatement.

Watching your favorite TV show in a commercial-free binge is now the norm. And Forrester Research's latest projection? U.S. advertisers' spending on digital advertising will outstrip spending on TV by 2016. The halcyon days of the TV business are now behind us.

The battle for eyeballs -- and advertising dollars -- is a drama worthy of "Game of Thrones." The powerful, entrenched dynasties of TV's past are fighting desperately to keep what was theirs. It's an environment where allegiances are always shifting, and the line between friend and enemy is never clearly marked. The future is uncertain, except that the winners will be handsomely rewarded. The losers, on the other hand, don't fare so well.

As the saying goes, when you play the Game of Thrones, "you win … or you die." The stakes aren't quite so high in the world of TV. It's more like "you win … or you get a job in digital."

"You win or you die" is just one of the great recurring catchphrases from the show. In honor of the season premiere, here are three other "Game of Thrones" truisms that apply to the changing TV landscape.

"Winter is coming."

The characters in "Game of Thrones" know that a massive change to their world is imminent. It's unavoidable, unwelcome and already underway.

Consider the following: Four of the six Emmy-nominated dramas last year ran in environments that contained no advertising slots. These are the shows that are shaping culture and driving conversation, and there's no room for brands in them.

Or that the next generation of consumers sees no difference between TV stars and YouTube stars. Variety did a survey last summer and found out that YouTube stars are actually more popular among teens than mainstream celebrities. And consider this, while 60% of millennials don't have a favorite commercial, 44% reported searching for a commercial on YouTube in the past year, according to Hill Holliday research.

So, winter is coming. It means simply that change is unavoidable. We need to prepare for it, and we need to embrace it.

"It is known."

It's an expression that reminds the characters in "Game of Thrones" of the foundational, enduring truths that never change. When it comes to TV in 2015, what is "known?"

The first is that the power of a great story, well told, will never diminish. It was true for the cavemen. It's true today. And it will be true wherever humans find themselves a thousand years from now.

The second "known" is that we will use the amazing technology we're surrounded by to get closer to the stories we love.

Indeed, earlier this year HBO announced plans to release its first-ever standalone streaming package.

This is a clear bellwether of the near-term future for television -- a future that exists on iPads and smartphones, and maybe without an actual device called a TV. It is known: The future of TV exists at the intersection of wonderful stories, and technology that empowers people to access and interact with those stories in new ways, and on their own terms.

"Words are wind."

This is my favorite quote from "Game of Thrones." Such an elegant way to say, "Actions speak louder than words."

The future of TV will be shaped by the brave players that are most willing to experiment and evolve. The bold ones that are willing to meet consumers on their terms, and to redefine what it means to tell a story in a media environment that is no longer constrained to 30- and 60-minute linear stories delivered through a large box in a living room.

There will definitely be more blood spilled in the industry, but in the end, those innovative, brave industry players who aren't afraid to evolve will help form a brave new world of TV. We're already seeing so many interesting experiments: streaming services creating original content, traditional media companies unbundling their content, tie-ins between traditional content and new media channels, and independent creators finding large and growing audiences.

Will all of these experiments succeed? Only time will tell. The words and promises made by those in the industry, those watching the industry and those hoping to change the industry will be measured by the impact they actually have. The words and promises that don't deliver will simply blow away like dust in the wind.

Just like in "Game of Thrones," the TV landscape is undergoing a major upheaval, and the forward-thinkers in the industry willing to cater to consumers will win -- the others, like some characters in the show, might not make it to the next season.

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