As television shows fight to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded market, the guarantee of audience becomes much less definite. In order to distinguish themselves, shows often resort to the post-TV techniques laid out in Tara McPherson’s article, “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” to varying degrees of success/mockery. For instance, to release the date for the upcoming Game of Thrones season premiere, HBO used a Facebook Live feed that would allow viewers to actively participate in the announcement. However, the somewhat perplexingly bizarre format they chose to deliver this information was, in fact, a melting block of ice, with the date hidden within.
The choice to present the premiere date via ice perhaps best evidences McPherson’s assertion about the web surfer’s desire for transformation, as in an “activation of our desire for what’s next” (204). Since the premiere date would remain unknown until the ice literally transformed into a melted state, viewers were encouraged to watch the largely static shot carefully, noting any changes that might provide hints. Similarly, the (illusion of) liveness—as foregrounded by the use of Facebook Live broadcasting—allowed viewers to await this transformation en masse.
Viewers watching the livestream were encouraged to comment on the feed with the words “FIRE” or “DRACARYS” in order to melt the ice block more quickly. These comments were ostensibly tracked with a “fire meter” in the corner of the screen, which showed how close they were to releasing the next burst of flame. The use of the fire meter also seems to clearly indicate an appeal to the web’s desire for volitional mobility by “structuring a mobilized liveness which we come to feel we invoke and impact” (202). Due to the large number of people watching the feed, however, it would have been virtually impossible to correlate one’s own commenting efforts on an actual scale, as the fire meter seemed to refill regardless of individual efforts. Thus the intention to provide volitional mobility was in place, but the actual sense of true volition was not readily apparent.
Finally, the melting ice display also seemed to be designed to appeal to the scan and search practice, which McPherson terms as “a fear of missing the next experience or the next piece of data” (204). Surely, the majority of viewers watching the ice melt were not riveted by the display itself, but simply didn’t want to miss the information and have to rely on secondary sources. However, even with the interactive component, the video stream of melting ice more closely aligned the viewing with the typical TV scan-and-search experience—i.e. not wanting to change the channel—than the typical web experience. In an environment where people are used to being able to click away and search for their own information, a 40-minute, nearly silent livestream contrasted with that ingrained experience, and thus made the announcement hugely vulnerable to criticism and memes.
Game of Thrones season seven premieres July 16.