Neon’s David Joyce on life after Game of Thrones

You may feel like you cannot participate in society if you don’t watch Game of Thrones. The fantasy programme has taken the world by storm and now Neon, the only legal streaming service in New Zealand with Game of Thrones on its programming list, has reaped the rewards of that popularity as the site reports its best period ever off the back of season six.

Game of Thrones has made its home at the top of Neon’s most popular list for some time, accounting for 10 percent on the site’s overall viewership. However, when season six was released, the programme leapt up to 40 percent of total viewership across the last three months.

In that time, general manager David Joyce says media requests have grown by over 230 percent, which is a “massive amount of growth” and gives an indication of just how popular the show is.

Joyce says it took the release of 50 Shades of Grey and Vinyl to knock the programme from top spot but both were only temporary achievements.

When Neon launched in February last year, it was home to seasons one to four of Game of Thrones and has since delivered seasons five and six express from the US.

Joyce says Neon understands its customers want to see content as fast as possible and it has put a focus on delivering key programmes express from the US. Titles such as Fear the Walking DeadFargo and True Detective are also able to be viewed express from the US.

On Monday nights when the latest Game of Thrones episode is released, he says there is a spike on Neon from what he calls “die-hard fans” who have been waiting for the latest episode to drop 

While that spike shows how eager the audience is get the latest, Joyce says the popularity is across all seasons and year round as the programme attracts a new audience and fans who are re-watching it.

With such buzz around the latest episodes, he says people who have never seen the show before are coerced into watching it and then go back and start from the beginning.

Neon is the only place audiences can legally stream Game of Thrones in New Zealand express from the US, a privilege it shares with subscribers to Sky’s SoHo channel.

In a chief executive letter in Sky’s June 2015 financial report, John Fellet said there was a “massive debate” to determine whether or not Game of Thrones should be released on Neon at the same time it ran on SoHo. He said the concern was that the benefit of one would only come at the expense of the other. But that did not happen.

“When we debuted Season five on both platforms the SoHo viewership figures hit an all-time record whilst at the same time Neon customers took off. We had kept both circles happy,” Fellet said.

One thing Neon offers fans that Sky doesn’t is the ability to binge the programme. While Joyce can’t say how many people binge watch Game of Thrones on Neon, he says it’s a viewing pattern unique to SVODs and Neon does show a “blip” at the end of a Game of Thrones series where people will wait for the whole season to be over before going on and watching the whole thing in a small period of time. He says people will use a 30-day free trial to do this, but “it’s not something [Neon] can worry about”. He says the challenge is to say “what’s the next content we can deliver”.

In his chief executive’s letter, Fellet said this characteristic is what gives SVOD’s a typically higher churn than traditional pay TV models. “The key enabler of SVOD churn is the easy out/easy in ability to add and drop SVOD services online and at will,” he said. “With no contracts, no equipment rentals and no financial penalties for dropping the service as in a phone contract, SVOD customers can come and go as they please with no downside. Again, securing, distributing and marketing the right content to the right people will be the key to success with this business model.”

With season six now over, Joyce also recognises the need to keep its Game of Thrones audience engaged on the site with the right content and says it is working closely with the programming department to identify content of similar genres, which might keep the audience hooked. 

Neon has launched the ‘Farewell to the Game of Thrones’ collection, with programmes including BansheeHell on Wheels, and Penny Dreadful, which fit the brief. Joyce says this is Neon going to the Game of Thrones audience and saying “hey, here’s some other great content you might like that fits with that genre”. While it’s still early days, he is hopeful that is what will keep people engaged.

“Whatever I do, it is the most popular show in the world, so I guess our challenge now is, we’ve had this fantastic run and we now want to continue to build on that. I think we’ve got to do everything we can with the programming team to try to deliver an on-going content story,” Joyce says. “I think we’ve got a compelling story but I can’t control the Game of Thrones audience, it’s been around for six seasons, I’m just trying to take advantage of that and the fact that we are lucky enough to have it.”

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