Monday, April 24, 2017

Core Post 5 - Post-TV

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.


  1. This is really fascinating! Of course, this strategy of utilizing live feeds and user responses is not unique to Game of Thrones. A more bizarre example would be Twitch Plays Pokemon, in which a days-long live feed of user commands played through an entire game of Pokemon. But it is fascinating to find this new mode of liveness and user engagement being used for fan and commercial ends. I wonder if this new "genre" will evolve in the coming years.

  2. I had to wonder (and I did, at the time): on what platforms and on what devices were over 160,000 people watching a giant block of ice melt for almost an hour on a Thursday afternoon? Makes me think of Lotz's discussion around how post-network television is mobile (meaning live television can be viewed outside of the home). Were these people watching on their computer screens at work? In the office bathroom on their phones? On their laptops during a lecture? Was GoT's marketing team banking on people in the Americas watching this live stream in the middle of the work day, and if so, what does that say about the blurring of work/play? (Yes, the Internet makes it harder for us to stop working, even at home. But it also makes it easier for us to "play" at work.)

  3. Akin to watching paint dry, the fan following of such a bizarre announcement is telling of the strong fan following of GOT. Thanks for sharing Emily.

  4. Haha thanks for sharing the actual premiere date at the end, Emily. Good to know!

    This is such a fascinating case study of television’s “liveness” in the post-TV era. What’s particularly interesting about it for me is that the “mundane-ness” or, as Monica states, the “watching paint dry” aesthetic becomes a marketing spectacle. The innovation is that it doesn’t deliver the information/punchline in the quickest way possible, as most conventional marketing seems to do. Instead, it relishes in its slowness (akin to what Tara described as Norwegian “slow TV”). It seems to also poke fun at the intense dedication/stamina of GoT fans who follow the series all the way to its lengthy end. Indeed, waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish the last GoT book is very much like a watching a block of ice melt!

  5. This actually reminds me of something the interactive media stunt that occurred around the release of The Dark Knight, in which citizens of New York had an opportunity to become citizens of Gotham, complete with a driver's license and an actual address (all depending on where they lived). Participants were encouraged to go on a Easter Egg hunt (haha, get it?) throughout the actual city in order to gain privileged information about the upcoming film. Including going to an assuming Dress Shop, asking for a cake (in which a cellphone would be placed with only one stored number)...

    So. Step up your game Game of Thrones people. You got that feature film money.