Lord of the Rings vs Game of Thrones: Lessons for Associations, Content Strategy and Events


Lord of the Rings vs Game of Thrones: Lessons for Associations, Content Strategy and Events (Ep.1)

This article was also published in AMI Magazine

By Colm Clarke

Episode 1: Battling Business Models

Hopefully your leadership transitions are more civilised than in a Game of Thrones episode, and your stakeholder groups are easier to align around common objectives than Tolkien’s elves and dwarves – but don’t ignore the lessons for associations provided by last year’s release of prequels to these popular series.

First of all, we are witnessing a battle of business models with content strategy in the middle.

HBO (producer of Game of Thrones and its prequel House of the Dragon) has a core business producing content and selling it via subscriptions or broadcast licenses around the world.

Entering the competition for fantasy fans’ attention is Amazon, who have created Lord of the Rings prequel The Rings of Power as part of their Prime Video subscription.

The key difference here is that Amazon isn’t really in the business of selling content subscriptions – as the Economist explains, “Amazon Prime Video exists to keep people signed up to Prime, whose main benefit is free delivery of Amazon purchases.”

Content is therefore a means to keep consumers connected to the online retail services which generate the main revenue and profits.

We can quickly expand the review here to include Netflix, who have been adapting their business model to include a cheaper subscription option subsidised by advertising revenue and adding merchandising for popular shows.

And of course, Disney, who owns a huge and diverse portfolio of content whose stories and characters are rich merchandising sources, plus their famous amusement parks.

Despite these business model differences, success in attracting and keeping consumer attention comes down to producing the best content.

So why is this relevant for associations?

Ask yourself – when someone is watching a series from any of these platforms, are they thinking about the business model behind why and how the series was produced? (No!) Or, just whether they like what they watch? (Yes!)Can you expect your association members, content subscribers or event attendees to think differently?

If consultancies in your sector put out great market research or insights, people will read it or watch it.

If you have an industry supplier that puts on a great networking event, people will go.

If a tradeshow offers a free conference, people will attend even if the standard may not be as high as your (relatively expensive) annual programme.

If that same tradeshow would create an online community based on their attendee lists, would it be much different than what your association membership offers?

Have you checked whether LinkedIn learning is moving into the content areas you cover?


The reality for associations today is that competition is everywhere.


Just as HBO can’t tell Amazon they’re “not allowed” to do content because they’re really a retail business, associations can’t expect other organisations to walk away from opportunities that leverage content, or to “respect the space” an association has spent decades developing.

A “not-for-profit” status may be an excuse as to why an association doesn’t invest as much or compete as aggressively as a for-profit targeting the same audience but it is not a defence.

And competition for attention can ultimately be just as damaging as direct competition for budget. If “free” resources are of a reasonable value, or, even if they just take away the time available to engage with your association resources, the outcome will be the same – less use and/or perceived value of “exclusive” association benefits.

So how can associations compete?

Episode 2 will look at understanding and leveraging your key assets: content and community…

If you’d like to discuss what this means for your association strategy, feel free to contact the author.


Colm Clarke

Partner, Consultancy


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