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How we watched Game of Thrones

19 Jun 2014  |  Emma Holden 
How we watched Game of Thrones

Sky IQ's new viewing panel is providing data from more than 500,000 Sky homes across the UK - so what insights can we take away? Using one of the most talked about shows on TV today, Emma Holden explains all...

The promos have been airing for weeks. Billboards, bus stops and newspapers have reiterated the channel, the time and the date to the millions of viewers that pass them daily. And now, that time has finally arrived; viewers sit, eagerly awaiting that live airing of a new show - the success of which will be based on just how many viewers stick around until the credits roll.

At least, that's how it used to be. As TV has changed and technologies have evolved, so has the way viewers plan their viewing. Measuring overnights gives us a valuable first impression but can't provide an overall picture of a show's success - and the myriad of ways that viewers engaged with it.

That's where Sky IQ's aggregated and anonymised viewing panel can help. It aggregates data from over 500,000 Sky homes in the UK - and offers us a view of exactly how content is consumed - be that live, playback, on demand or via Sky Go.

We wanted to use the panel to see how a show we knew would get great ratings - the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones - would be consumed on, and up to a week after, the day of its airing.

One of the most talked-about shows on TV today, last year's 'Red Wedding' episode received almost blanket coverage in national news. London paper Metro caused a justifiably hysterical uproar by greeting commuters with an enormous photo depicting the ill-fated characters' final moments.

Last year, according to Sky IQ's panel, nearly 1.5 million households engaged with the Season 3 premiere, with 85% of viewing via linear (either live or playback).

This year, however, Sky Atlantic did something unprecedented: on 7th April 2014 it simulcast the first episode of Game Of Thrones season four between the US and the UK at 2am, prior to the more traditional 9pm transmission later that evening.

Overall, 1.9 million households watched the premiere - up 26% on last year, accounting for 1 in 5 of all Sky households.

Linear viewing, both live and playback, is still king, accounting for 85% last year and 82% in 2014, although the increased proportion of catch-up might be due to that 2am simulcast.

Sky IQ

The show's dazzling cinematics may look their best on a large screen TV, but that didn't stop a greater number of viewers watching via Sky Go, both live and on demand. Sky Go views were up an impressive 139% on last year, increasing share of overall viewing from 4% to 7%.

This hints at the evolving ways in which viewers consume programming and given that 2am airing time, it's not inconceivable that many viewers took their tablet to bed that night.

The other main growth area was Sky's on-demand push service "Showcase" which saw an 89% increase in household viewing than in 2013.

And uptake of promoted Showcase content is likely to increase even more significantly next year; as updates to Sky+HD boxes kick in this year, the EPG will soon provide recommendations based on the shows that you've previously downloaded or recorded.

The viewing window

Because viewers can choose from a variety of transmission times and different ways to engage with the show, we can see how viewing of the 1st episode played out across different platforms during the week of the transmission window.

Monday 2am: In total, nearly 60,000 households poured themselves a triple espresso in order to stay footloose and spoiler-free, watching the 2am broadcast via their Sky box or on Sky Go. Meanwhile, just over 450,000 set their Sky+ boxes to record the 2am broadcast in order to watch at a time that was more convenient for them.

Monday 9pm: In addition to the earlier airing, over 490,000 households waited to watch the episode live when the show re-aired at the more sleep-friendly time of 9pm on Monday evening - perhaps because watching live at the same time as half a million others enables synchronised social commentary via the second screen. In addition, nearly 680,000 subsequently viewed this showing on playback.

In total, half of those that recorded either the 2am or 9pm showing had caught up on the same day, ready to discuss at work the next morning.

Wednesday 10pm: And for any households that missed the opportunity to view live or record on Monday, a repeat of the episode on Wednesday evening attracted a further 165,000 households viewing live.

Across the week: Our data enables us to plot the 'tail' of these broadcasts - tracking views from those who watched the first episode up to 6 days after the first airing, using playback, Showcase (on demand push) and download (on demand pull).

Of those who recorded the show, 20% caught up the following day after the premiere with the remaining 30% watching two to six days after transmission.

Other platforms continued to perform strongly across the seven day window. The following Sunday still accounted for 5% of Showcase and on-demand viewing, and 7% of Sky Go VoD/streaming - that's six days after the original transmission date.

The wider range of viewing options was also reflected in how the new series was promoted. The "Home of Thrones" message targeted both existing and new audiences, promoting not only the premiere but also the ability to download box sets of series 1-3 which could be then viewed via TV or Sky Go. Getting new viewers up to speed with the plot twists and intrigue, not only enabled the series 4 opener to grow audience but also encouraged new ways of engaging with the show.

So while linear viewing continues to lay claim to the Iron Throne, there's no doubt that - like one of George RR Martin's tomes - overnights only tell one part of a far more complex, interwoven story.

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