So what kind of ratings will this series need to survive? Many people seem to think that Martin’s existing fan base should be enough to make the series a success. But is that true?
First we must answer the question, how big is Martin’s fan base? Adam from The Wertzone has kindly shared the numbers. He stated that Martin has sold 2.5 million copies in the US and over 5 million books worldwide. Pretty impressive. Using those numbers we can divide by 4 and get an approximate number of fans: 625,000 in the US, 1.25 million worldwide. Unfortunately the number HBO is more concerned with is the US number since they are the ones who represent potential subscribers.
625k is a nice base for a series, but it will not make the series. By comparison, True Blood, based on a much lesser known book series, debuted at 1.44 million viewers. Obviously this was after it received extensive advertising, so that wasn’t all fans and readers of the original books. I think that number is easily attainable for the opening, especially if all 600k+ US fans subscribe to HBO and tune in.
The hard part is building that viewer base. Again using True Blood as a comparison the number had grown to 6.8 million viewers. It is now one of HBO’s most successful shows, up there with The Sopranos and Sex in the City. If Thrones can climb to those type of numbers it is most certainly going to be considered a hit.
The show doesn’t necessarily need to reach that level to survive though. It could still be considered a success with modest numbers, especially if it has a loyal fan following (which it almost certainly will). For example, The Tudors averages around 1 million viewers per episode and is still successful enough to have received a second and now third season. Of course, it has to be taken into account that Showtime has less than half of the subscriber base of HBO. If we double that Tudors number, we get upwards of 2 million viewers.
I expect that somewhere in the range of 2-3 million viewers would be enough to keep Thrones on the air. Obviously Martin’s US fan base isn’t enough to get to that point, but it is a good jumping off point. The show is still going to need to attract more viewers though; advertising, word-of-mouth and good critical reception will hopefully be enough to make the series a success.