Data of Thrones: Revealing how people consumed articles about Game of Thrones on a 500,000-hour reading sample

Winter has finally passed for Game of Thrones. The last ever episode of HBO’s monster hit series has aired and people are still processing the events that occurred during these last 6 episodes – and are likely to do so for days to come. Even though season 8 has been generating rather chilly reviews, Game of Thrones remains a hot topic for publishers.

During these last nine years, Game of Thrones has become more than just another smash hit television series. From the earliest days, the show – which is based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” – has done more than attract high viewing figures. It’s made a substantial – and some might say unprecedented – contribution to pop culture, and has triggered countless heated discussions online. The first episode of season 8 was seen by 17.4 million viewers across various platforms, so clearly there are a lot of people out there who are really, really invested in seeing who’ll end up sitting on the Iron Throne and ruling over Westeros. We know because here at CI HQ we account for 23 of them.

So, in addition to ruling the internet and generating a veritable tidal wave of fresh tweets, comments, and memes every week, Game of Thrones has also been widely reported in the media. A lot of publishers were aware of how big Game of Thrones was and how interested their readers were in following the complex analyses, predictions, and theories about how the show would end, so they went all in for Game of Thrones content. Just as the Lannisters famously lived by the adage about debts and always paying them, publishers seemed to live by another: all men must read, all men must write and comment about Game of Thrones.

All men must read, all men must write and comment about Game of Thrones

With all of this in mind, we at Content Insights decided to put our content intelligence solution to good use and investigate how much of a big deal Game of Thrones actually was for the media. Did all the free publicity these articles generated for the show have an equal upside for publishers?

According to our data coming from more than 100 different news outlets, for the first five and a half months of 2019, a total of 43,661 articles about Game of Thrones have created traffic for our clients. That’s a lot. What if we told you that those articles generated almost 500,000 hours of true Attention Time across media outlets. Impressive, right?

In this article, we will reveal how engaged people were while reading about Game of Thrones, which channels brought the biggest audience to Game of Thrones stories, and also what type of devices people used to access news about HBO’s monster hit series.

Why do publishers bend the knee for Game of Thrones?

The most obvious – and important – answer to this question is that publishers can expect an engaged audience. In addition, stories about Game of Thrones tend to stay in the loop for a very long time (and it will be interesting to see if they continue to do so after the series’ end).

For example:

Stories that predict who will end up ruling Westeros have been in circulation for years. Almost every major online publisher that has an entertainment section has written at least once about who will end up “winning” Game of Thrones.

In addition to this, stories covering details that fans might have missed in the previous episode or season also have a lasting life span.

But, enough about that. Let’s get back to audience engagement. Since you’re astute about these kinds of things, no doubt you might be asking just how deeply engaged readers are when it comes to articles about Game of Thrones. You’d be right to: it’s a great question.

The answer is: they are highly engaged.

Game of Thrones content performance can be summed up in one word: Dracarys! 🔥 🔥 🔥

Once again, seeing fans’ reactions were often the best part of the hype that surrounded Game of Thrones. Articles that covered fan-made memes about the show and its many clumsy mistakes in season 8 were the biggest sources of traffic and engagement for publishers.

For example, the famous Starbucks incident got a lot of traction. People immediately took to their social media platform of choice to question how such a mistake could go unchecked, and the publishers tried their best to explain the origin of this particular mishap. Some believed that this was an intentional marketing stunt, others that the show’s creators had stopped caring.

Stories that talk about characters who were killed off in the show have also generated a lot of interest, and since the Red Wedding episode, surprise character assassination seems always to generate serious discussion.

On average, true Attention Time for these articles was 80 seconds. We compared this value to the average Attention Time of the Sections where stories about Game of Thrones were published. Guess what? Stories about Game of Thrones were read for 12.5% longer than other articles within the same sections.

The measure of Page Depth (the metric which describes the average number of pages visited after a reader opens that first article) is a useful indicator of how well certain pieces have encouraged readers to stay on site. In the case of articles about Games of Thrones, the average values of Page Depth was 2.03, showing that people opened at least one more article after reading that first bombastic one.

Game of Thrones content ages fine like Dornish wine

Let’s just focus on the following as an example.

Since the start of the year, media within our network reported 1,736 articles on Game of Thrones.

The actual number of related articles that got traffic in the same period was 43,611.

So, only about 4% of the articles that generated traffic in the first five and a half months of 2019, were actually published this year – 96% of them are older.

Which are paths most traveled to Westeros? Where do people discover content about Game of Thrones?

As you might expect, because of high Page Depth values, most people come to this type of content from an internal referrer – meaning they discover stories on the same website where they read the initial story. In fact, as much as 60.3% of traffic came from internal referrers.

This fact shows how important internal linking is and that your website structure needs to be organized like Varys and his little birds. Moreover, this type of traffic might well have come from the related articles list, or ‘read more’ boxes.

The second referrer that brought the most traffic is Social. More than 12.4% of traffic came from social networks. So, if you wanted proof that your social programming was worth investing time in, look no further. Content promotion on social networks is king (or queen) when it comes to stories about Game of Thrones.

The third most important traffic source is actually Search Referrer. As much as 10.3% of traffic came from search engines. Fourth place goes to direct traffic with 7.51%. And, to be clear, these direct referrers can be newsletters, links to the article that people share with each other, or aggregator services, such as Apple news.

We’ve learned where most people came from, but of course, volume is not always the most important factor. For us at Content Insights, the sheer number of readers still doesn’t say much about their behavior.

So let’s get down to brass tacks and look at what type of referrer actually brought the most engaged audience for publishers.

The most engaged readers, as our analysis has revealed, came from internal referrers. In fact, these people were most eager to start reading, read for longer, and explore further on the same website. They are the champions when it comes to Attention Time with an average of 102 seconds. Note that the second highest Attention Time goes to Search Referrer with 64 seconds, 38% less compared to internal referrer.

All other referrers in terms of Attention Time are roughly the same (with the difference of just a couple of seconds). Social media might be the second biggest source of traffic for Game of Thrones stories, but these people rank last when it comes to Attention Time. This only confirms the widespread belief that while social media generates a lot of traffic for publishers, it doesn’t bring a very engaged audience.

The data for our unique Read Depth metric is very different than when we only look at Attention Time. Read Depth champions are actually people who discovered Game of Thrones stories on Social networks. On average, they read 51.5% of a single article’s content.

The second place in the Read Depth competition goes to readers who came from search engines. On average, they read 49.4% of a single article. They are closely followed by people who came via internal referrers and who had an average Read Depth of 48.9%, while people who discovered these stories via a direct referrer, read the least amount of content in a single article: only 42.1%.

How do engaged readers behave on certain devices?

First things first. Let’s see the breakdown of devices people used to consume the news about Game of Thrones. So, most Article reads came from desktop devices – as many as 55.8%. The second most used device to read Game of Thrones news was mobile, with 40.83% of reads, while tablets are – as expected – in the last place with 3.3%.

Of course, what we really want to discover is whether there are any differences in people’s behavior and engagement when they read the news on different devices. Can we see different reader behavior? The answer is yes.

People who were reading on their computers, or let’s say, desktop versions of media outlets’ websites, were the most engaged by far.

Attention Time on desktops was 89 seconds, which is 17% longer compared to mobile and tablet, where readers read for 74 seconds.

In terms of Read Depth, desktop users come first once again. On average, they were reading 48.6% of the content. Mobile users were not far behind in this department with an average Read Depth of just over 48%. People who read stories on their tablets are ranked last with an average Read Depth of 45.4%.

When we talk about Page Depth, desktop users are absolute champions. On average, they consumed 2.4 articles, while people who use tablets ranked second with 1.9 articles. The last place in this category goes to mobile users whose Page Depth is 1.6.

This clearly shows that people who came from desktop devices have almost literally made consuming as much information about Game of Thrones as possible an event.

They were either seeking details they may have missed during the previous night’s episode or just following up on stories that go deeper into the Game of Thrones lore. Our data suggests that their engagement in the show translates into engagement in the online content discussing it too.

On the other hand, people who consumed Game of Thrones content from mobile devices were probably more interested in fan reactions and quick posts that fill in the blanks that were left after watching the show.

Brace yourself: takeaways are coming

So, what were we able to learn about Game of Thrones news junkies?

Here’s a quick recap:

Type of device matters when it comes to reader engagement

Just like the use of dragonglass and valyrian steel made a difference in the fight against the White Walkers, the type of device people used to consume news about Game of Thrones has also greatly influenced reader engagement. People who were reading stories on their computers were significantly more engaged compared to people who read stories on their mobiles and tablets.

Different places where people discover stories account for different levels of reader engagement

What is read may never die?!

We can actually see the difference in the way people consume content depending on the place where they discovered the story. People who came from an internal referrer had the longest reading time, generated the most traffic, and were most eager to explore more content after reading the initial story, compared to all other referrers.

Free Long tail traffic

Even though the North remembers, for news content in general, most visitors coming from Facebook tend to forget to click on additional stories after barely reading the initial one.

However, that’s not the case with Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones articles have a lasting value. They’re the Valyrian steel of content.

Just like there’s no denying a coin from Braavos after it’s accompanied by “Valar morghulis”, we can’t really ignore the fact that Game of Thrones content just keeps on giving. The fact that 96% of the stories that generated traffic are older than five months is awesome.

So, even though winter’s come and all’s been sorted (sort of) in Westeros, that’s not to say that the lessons here are restricted to Game of Thrones content. This series wasn’t the first to inspire such a devout and chatty following, and it won’t be the last. Where before, the technology wasn’t necessarily in place to facilitate the kinds of discussions and debates that every new plot point brought (Lost, anyone?), Game of Thrones hit the sweet spot for blending fan discussion, media coverage and technological capability. What we’ve learned from our data analysis shouldn’t go the way of the Lannisters.

If you liked this analysis, you can learn more about the way our analytics solution works here, or if you would like to see what we can do for your publication contact us.

Content Insights’ biggest GoT fan, Goran Mirkovic, contributed to this article.

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