Guillaume Jouhet, Managing Director of OCS, and Charlotte Blum, series journalist at OCS, analyze the power wielded by fans on the production and broadcast processes of series. Interview...
On July 16, 2017, the global Game of Thrones fan community will come together for the broadcast of the first episode of Season 7. In France, it’s on OCS, HBO’s exclusive partner, that the experience will unfold at 3 am on July 17 and at 8:40 pm on OCS City. A few weeks before the event, Guillaume Jouhet and Charlotte Blum analyze the power wielded by fans on the production and broadcast processes of series.
Are there as many fan communities as there are series?
Charlotte Blum : No series, even the most popular, create fan communities. The series should have a very distinctive environment, a time-based narrative as well as complex stories and characters. These mechanisms are what capture the viewer: they get them hooked and active. So between two episodes, fans have no other option than to relive their series by expressing themselves within a community, usually on the Internet.
Guillaume Jouhet : Fans come together to share the same experience of sophisticated series. Game of Thrones is the best example of this. It’s one of the few series to generate so many tweets: on each first broadcast of an episode, hundreds of thousands of fans comment online.
The pace of broadcasting contributes to the dramatic tension of the series. How do you arrange scheduling to meet fans’ expectations?
G.J. : Fans have a set idea: the next episode! To meet their expectations and to avoid piracy, OCS has tightened broadcasting timelines and offers simulcasting with the United States for the multilingual version. On July 17 you will be able to view the first episode of Season 7 of Game of Thrones, in the original or French version, at the same time as the whole planet!
C.B. : It must be remembered that a series is primarily all about pleasure! And waiting is part of the pleasure. Broadcasters such as HBO rely on suspense and play on dramatization. This staged frustration encourages communication between fans and so heightens the buzz.
Live comments on Twitter, opinions on Facebook communities, fanfiction disseminated on blogs, etc. Do showrunners* and broadcasters take account of what fans say on the web and social networks?
C.B. : I don’t think that series creators need that to express their talent. Fans of series themselves, they have the same reference points and share a common culture with the fans. The best showrunners already have the ideas that are circulating on the net in their minds!
*[Editor’s note: scriptwriters and producers]
Although fan pressure has little effect on the creative process, it may nonetheless be very powerful in saving a series or bringing it back.Charlotte Blum, series journalist at OCS.
Have series already been changed as a result of leaks or under pressure from fans?
C.B. : At the beginning of the year, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, creators of Westworld, discovered that fans had guessed the outcome of an episode of Season 2 [Editor’s note: to be broadcast in 2018] and decided to rewrite the script. This is the exception and is only possible at the beginning of the writing phase.
G.J. : The series is an industry. HBO and other producers/broadcasters don’t play it by ear or make knee-jerk reactions to the comments they read on the Internet. It’s very difficult to put a value on the noise created by a series. Some series, like The Sopranos or The Wire, spark fashion phenomena: it’s cool to say that we love these series and talk about them on social networks, even if we don’t watch them much or at all.
C.B. : Although fan pressure has little effect on the creative process, it may nonetheless be very powerful in saving a series or bringing it back. The most recent example is that of Arrested Development, a series halted for three years owing to low audience ratings but being produced again thanks to fan engagement.
Is having a powerful fan community synonymous with good audience ratings for a series?
C.B. : Reputation is sometimes at odds with the ratings. For example, Big Little Lies, a major success with well-known actors, received less Internet coverage than Insecure, a short comedy created by a YouTube user. Some series address a niche market and enjoy a high degree of visibility. This is the case of Girls, the story of which revolves around the daily lives of 20-year-old girls. It’s creating a huge buzz on the Internet although its target market is limited and its broadcasting quite confidential. It must be said that its main heroine is addicted to social networks, which has encouraged fans to speak out on the Internet. Result: HBO has just broadcast its sixth season! What’s more, many showrunners I’ve met have confided that they prefer to address a very small but ultra powerful fan base, rather than the general public, which is very diluted and, at the end of the day, not very loyal.
G.J. : Productions that gain a high audience from their launch are very rare. On OCS, right at the beginning, we scheduled Breaking Bad against a background of general indifference: the series only became a phenomenon after two or three seasons. Fan communities thus form a nucleus from which major successes emerge.
Everything that gives major series their lure is based on stories with rough edges.Guillaume Jouhet, OCS Managing Director
The progress of Artificial Intelligence is dazzling. Do you believe that a computer might one day write the next big success by identifying the desires of millions of people?
G.J. : Everything that gives major series their lure is based on stories with rough edges. A very smooth, automatic system can’t do that. Or, perhaps, for so-called procedural, highly formatted, series like FBI: Without a Trace.
C.B. : It’s a subject that’s all too real! Imagine a scriptwriting room with 15 people who are recalling their lives, their childhood memories, etc. It’s all these conversations and some anecdotes exchanged during the creative phase that spawn series. You can’t automate that.