Industry Voices—Why Netflix will never have as big a hit as 'Game of Thrones'

"Game of Thrones" gave us something to talk about with friends and colleagues. (HBO)
Kevin Gray

Let the water cooler talk begin. The most iconic show of the past decade has finally come to an end, and while some fans aren’t exactly thrilled with the ending, one thing is for certain. All of your family, friends, and colleagues will be debating the final episode this week, and sharing their take on what should, or should not have happened.

Over the course of the past six weeks, I can’t remember a time when pop culture has been so wrapped up in a series like HBO's "Game of Thrones." From strangers dressing up like their favorite characters in the streets, to office polls, to the millions of posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that are almost impossible to escape, everybody has been talking about it. My neighbor even has a flag of a dire wolf hanging from his front porch.

Amidst all of this, as a huge fan of the show, I couldn’t stop thinking about one thing this last month. Specifically, how much I enjoyed the anticipation between episodes and debate among friends that resulted from the episodes being released weekly. In the industry, this is called “Windowing,” and it’s entirely counterintuitive with the success of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and all of our new favorite streaming platforms, which have been dumping their entire new seasons out on the release date.

Appointment TV

This type of viewing behavior is great for old reruns of "The Office" and "Friends," which make up the lion’s share of the viewing minutes on services like these. But for new releases, it takes away half of the enjoyment for us to regularly share our minds and process the material with others. Indeed, all of us are constantly at different stages in our binging of shows that are released in this manner, so there’s never even a reliable chance to discuss.

For this reason, successful shows on Netflix will always fail to stack up against hit shows on other networks that are “windowed” because they’ll never have the same opportunity to capture the conversation away from the TV set the way that appointment-based television can.

I was going to go deeper into this, as we had a great discussion on this at our Pay TV Show event in Denver last week, but this CNBC article beat me to it. However, what we didn’t have time to discuss, and what this article fails to address, is that this isn’t really a problem for Netflix at all. In fact, Netflix could probably care less.

As Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, once said, “To make all of America do the same thing at the same time is enormously inefficient, ridiculously expensive, and most of the time, not a very satisfying experience.”

Netflix is not as interested in capturing conversation while you’re away from the TV as much as it is in giving you the best possible experience when you’re actually watching. It does this not only through its industry-leading user UX with best-in-class recommendation capabilities, but also the industry’s biggest budget for original content across basic, non sports entertainment.

To that extent, from premium content, to kids programming, family, documentary, lifestyle, you name it, Netflix’s goal is to replace the entire basic entertainment bundle.

Event-based TV — whether sports, news or shows like "Game of Thrones" — may actually be the only type of programming that Netflix is not trying to replace. By staying away from appointment-based viewing, it's able to do two things:
1)    Keep its brand promise and superior UX, where you can watch all of your favorite content as soon as you’d like, and
2)    Fulfill its role as the de facto service for the majority of your TV needs, while consumers churn on/off for other services that rotate through the occasional mega hit show.

So in short, if Netflix can own the majority of your time in front of the TV and relegate the HBO’s and Showtime’s of the world to “event-based television,” then I suspect it will be quite fine with that, even if it will never be able to produce a show that captures the public eye the same way that "Game of Thrones" has done for us this past decade.

Kevin Gray is the publisher of FierceMarkets’ Telecom group publications, and in this role oversees the editorial, operations, and sales functions of the group. He has been with the organization since 2010, previously serving as an associate publisher, managing the sales team for FierceTelecom, FierceCable, and FierceOnlineVideo. Kevin has a B.A. in Business Administration from Methodist University, and lives in Springfield, Virginia with his wife and son.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.