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Middle-earth versus Westeros: the battle for fantasy fans

It’s the fall feast that fantasy fans have been eagerly anticipating. HBO’s and Amazon Prime’s new fantasy series – House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – are going head to head. But with two fantasy franchises looking to tap into the same target market, there can only be one show to rule them all.

To find out what fantasy lovers really think about these new programs, we gathered online conversations on both using a social listening tool. To ensure conversations were unique to each show, we excluded discussions which mentioned both of them at once. We then uploaded these social conversations into our text analysis platform.

Relative Insight Explore compares multiple sets of text data and eliminates the obvious – things that even people who know nothing could discern – leaving only the key differences. These differences are vital when gathering target market insights into broadly similar audiences – our tool identifies the distinctions and nuances in discussions whose presence may otherwise go unnoticed.

The battle for the iron throne of fantasy streaming has certainly raised some interesting distinctions.

TV versus books – and acting skill

Despite both series being based on books, only one set of fans are concerned about how true the show is to its literature.

Discussions around The Rings of Power have focused on whether the show has captured J.R.R Tolkien’s world. Elements of this conversation has surrounded the casting of black actors and actresses. Our analysis found that the word ‘black’ appeared 2.3x more often in discussions about the show, while the word ‘diversity’ was 3.8x more likely to appear. This is a mix of people criticising the casting of black actors and counter-criticism of those views by others.

People can somehow believe in dwarves, elves, wizards and dragons but find it hard to believe they can be black?

More widely, there’s intense conversation around whether the world and characters depicted in the show pay homage to Tolkien’s vision. Those talking about The Rings of Power are 3.0x more likely to use the phrase ‘source material’ and 6.1x more likely to use the word ‘lore’.

I’ve read Tolkien and rings of power is not anywhere close. I’d be shocked that anyone who’s actually read the source material would say this.

Finally watched rings of power episode 2. I don’t hate or love it so far, but this isn’t Tolkien. Take it at face value; fan fiction with nice visuals.

Conversely, fans discussing House of the Dragon are less concerned with trueness to the book and the diversity of actors – instead they’re more likely to talk about specific actors and their performance.

Really enjoying house of the dragon so far, Paddy Considine is playing a blinder doing a really good part of showing the turmoil of a king trying to be a good dad and a good king. Matt Smith is awesome as daemon.”

Fantasy audiences highlight entertainment and thematic differences

Our audience analysis also demonstrated differences in how fantasy fans discussed the shows’ content.

The Rings of Power‘s viewers focused on the show’s depiction of good versus evil. While this is a mainstay of Tolkien’s work, some were disappointed that the series hasn’t moved away from this binary depiction of the world.

I know it’s not really what Lotr ever tries to do and ok I get that but it definitely limits the story when the evil side isn’t allowed to do anything cool or be sympathetic at all lol.

In contrast, House of the Dragon viewers highlight that this series is already appointment TV. Many of them plan their day around the release of a new episode, with the phrase ‘House of the Dragon day’ infinitely more likely to appear in conversations. They’re also 7.9x more likely to mention days of the week, particularly ‘Sundays’ or ‘Monday’, highlighting their plans to watch the show.

Sundays are officially for house of the dragon.

Monday is house of the dragon day.

Our target market insights revealed that fans of the show are also more likely to discuss ‘specific’ moments they enjoyed. They were 1.8x more likely to use words relating to ‘momentary’ occurrences, particularly the word ‘moment’ itself. As well as discussing events in the series so far, they also speculated what the show’s “Ned Stark moment” could be.

I wonder what will start the real chaos in House of the Dragon, its Ned Stark beheading moment.

Amazon is synonymous with its series; Game of Thrones more resonant than HBO

The callbacks to Game of Thrones extended beyond iconic moments. Fans are treating the prequel as an extension of the previous series, with some even describing it as “season 9”, while others are making direct comparisons to its quality when compared with Game of Thrones’ controversial eighth and final season.

Viewers have also noted that the show shares its predecessor’s famous theme tune, which has strengthened conversation related to the shows’ relationship. They were 1.3x more likely to use words related to music, and infinitely more likely to use the phrase ‘theme song’.

I did not expect House of the Dragon to use GoT theme song. Was delighted to hear it 🙂”

Finally watched episode 1 of House of the Dragon, it was good. 👍 looking forward to seeing more of This Game Of Thrones Prequel. 🔥”

However, despite it being the TV company’s flagship property, very few people referenced that the show was on HBO. This is in stark contrast to The Rings of Power, which fantasy fans strongly associate with Amazon rather than the previous Peter Jackson films – and Jeff Bezos in particular.

@coolmattdavis @richardhanania then don’t call it Lotr, call it Bezos head canon.

Fans also recognise the show as the streaming service’s flagship property – with its production and promotion reflecting this. They’re 1.5x more likely to reference words relating to money and 2.6x more likely to highlight the ambition of the show. People talking about the series also referenced the advertising campaign supporting its launch.

Amazon is really pushing rings of power. it’s all over the box of anything you order from there.

Anyone else think an ambitious prequel like “amazon’s rings of power” wouldn’t have happened without the trailblazing better call saul?

How HBO and Amazon can use these findings

Despite both shows appealing to similar people, our text analysis tool demonstrates the differences in focus for a fantasy audience. Both HBO and Amazon can use these target market insights to inform their marketing strategies for the rest of each respective series.

For HBO, emphasizing the actors and their performances will resonate with viewers. However, it doesn’t need to highlight that it’s an HBO property – that’s a given – but it shouldn’t be afraid of referencing the show’s relationship to Game of Thrones; this is a key selling point, not something which undermines its originality. Additionally, any promotions highlighting upcoming shows should use the phrase “House of the Dragon day”, while also providing a foretaste of any “moments” which will shock and entertain viewers.

Based on our analysis, Amazon should look to highlight areas of the series which chime with Tolkien’s vision – while also doubling down on the diversity displayed within the series. When it comes to villains, focusing additional content on their motivations and perspectives will pique the interest of fans, particularly if/when the show unveils Sauron as its ‘big bad’. The company could also look to showcase behind-the-scenes snippets and produce content focused on how it brought Middle-earth to life, tying into conversations about its ambition and the money it has spent on the series.

By using our text analysis platform to analyze conversations gathered through a social listening tool, we’ve been able to discern the differing aspects of these two series that fantasy fans focus upon. It means that Amazon and HBO can do more than just follow their noses when doubting the direction of their promotional activity.

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