HBO Speculation


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.


  • Why divide by 4 to get the number of fans? Is that because of duplicate purchases and folks who just picked up a copy, but didn’t become fans?

  • well, there are 4 books. so i guess you have to divide the total books sold by 4 to get the a clue about how many people bought all 4 books.
    but you then you would also have to take in account the people who just bought 1 book and didn’t continue to read the series….

  • I know a ton of people who would dig this story but just don’t have the time to invest or don’t want to take the time to read all the books. So I think people will catch on to this once the advertisments start running. Ain’t Cool News has been following this and that staff is not that familiar with the source material. If good buzz starts coming out about the production and overall vibe of the show I think it will be a hit bigger than True Blood.

  • You also have to factor in that not all of GRRM's fans have HBO — I don't. I don't know if I would get HBO just to watch the series, as much as I love it.
    As an entertainment journalist, I know that most network bosses expect genre shows to reach beyond the fan base to casual viewers. (That's why you get so much bad F&SF on TV and movies). So, I would thing that GoT would be expected to pull in the fan base as well as people who have never read or even heard of the books.

  • IMO the number of people that read the books would be higher then the 2.5 mill on the account of people that bought used copies or was lent them by a SOIAF pusher.

  • hbo is subscriber based, not viewer based. Getting awards and critical recognition are more important to the success of the netwrk and the show. Thus the threshold the show needs in actual viewers is far less than if it were on network television. Look at the numbers for most of HBO’s other shows, they’re pretty dismal. Yet the network keeps plugging along with shows that would have long been canceled on any other network.

  • True Blood is succeeding because it’s well written and, more importantly, smartly acted by a really great cast.

    I’m obviously not too worried about the writing for Game of Thrones. It’s the cast that will make or break it.

  • Nicer points JulieWash and Anons. There are other external factors to consider as well. Trueblood is a hit partly based on the novels and partly based on the fact that there are alot of gothic wannabe bitten people out there that love vampire stories in general. The Buffyfiles and older Twilightamaniacs (tm ;), Anne Rice followers probably tuned in just to see what it was about.
    Similarly there are a ton of fantasy geeks out there craving a good series. By fantasy I don’t mean just the Tolkein folks. You have Star Wars fans and Battlestar Galatica fans looking for something new to fill their voids. There are Wheel of Time and Dragonlance and Book of the Fallen fans out there who have never heard of George RR Martin that will give the series a look see if its teased the right way in the media.
    Then comes the more difficult part. Good marketing will inform people about GoT and get them to give it a try. Good acting and story telling will keep them. The previous thread about the supposed HBO exec’s feelings on the project seem to bode well for the theatrical components of the project.

  • The ratings and viewership will depend on the substance and the acting just like in professional sports if you win you will draw the audience.
    Alot more people than we expect will be turned on by a good fantasy series but it has to be good. It might take half a season to catch on but word of mouth goes a long way.

  • Well one other factor that hasn’t been mentioned is the budget. To make a good/”real”-looking fantasy series (i mean lotr-style real in comparison to for example legend of the seeker), you need quite a bigger budget as for a series like True Blood (at least i would think so).

    That would result in higher expectations i terms of income. But I do think it really can do good enough. If it’s done right it will appeal to both fantasy-fans and those who like strong character tales like Rome/Sopranos.

  • It has the remote possibility of becoming wildly popular. But here’s my gambling bet:

    Series premiere 6.5 – 8.0
    Average rating 1.5-3.0

    It’s really the kind of show that’s going to live on long after production has ended. HBO will get it’s respect with the comicon crowd. They will sell many many DVD’s. Martin will be flush with cash. Lucky actors will get juicy roles. We will finally be treated to a 12 hour movie on Game of Thrones and possibly more.

    But for now, it’s all about who directs and who stars in this. Let’s hope it all comes together and strive to not be negative or backseat drivers till we see the end product.

  • Don’t forget, it’s a co-production with the BBC, so the series will be airing in the U.K. as well, so those rating will be very important too. The U.K. is a huge TV market. Then there might also be sales to other foreign markets in Europe, to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc. so all of that will generate more revenue – remember, the books are popular in many other markets so TV stations there will often be looking to buy too.

    And finally, there are video sales which are a huge factor for HBO series. A popular series on video can be worth a fortune to them on top of the importance of ratings (which don’t generate actual dollars on a non-commercial station but are key gaining and retaining subscribers). I think HBO still does not sell their shows on iTunes, though could be wrong. If they do though, that’s yet another revenue stream – and can be a very big one.

  • I would say the book sales figure is speculative. The 2.5 million sales comes from publicity blurbs from some of GRRM’s partner companies (Valyrian Steel in particular, I believe) but overseas sales information isn’t available. The doubling to get the worldwide sales is a very rough way of doing it, and in fact since ASoIaF was a huge success in many countries overseas before it really took off in the US, it may be quite conservative. Most Western fantasy series are not as big as ASoIaF is in Japan, South Korea and China, for example, and the extra sales from there could be substantial.

    As for AGoT doing well in the UK, the BBC are likely considering what went wrong with them for ROME (which started off strong but dropped to 1 million viewers or so very quickly and they pulled their funding). They badly re-edited the first three episodes to focus more on the sex scenes, which likely turned off as many viewers as it drew in others, so as long as they don’t make that mistake again (and honestly, there isn’t a tenth as much sex in AGoT as some people like to think there is) and market this thing right they should be okay.

  • I’m a bit concerned about BBC support too. A lot of their shows are one-off seasons of 8 episodes.

    Do they have any record of supporting expensive dramas beyond 1 or 2 seasons?

  • Dividing by 4 might be inaccurate. I just picked up my first copy of Feast of Crows this weekend. I have also borrowed GoT to two others and they have since bought CoK but did not purchase GoT. I am sure this happens alot. I like I am sure most others also know a lot of people that don’t read or don’t have time to read but would be hugely interested in watching this series.

  • Admittedly, dividing by 4 gives only a very rough estimate of the fans of Martin’s series. I know of at least 3 other people who would consider themselves fans of the series that don’t own the books, either had them lent to them or got them from the library.

    However, if you were to measure the fans that are passionate enough to subscribe to HBO just to watch the series, my guess is almost all of those fans have a copy of each of the 4 books.

  • All that I can add is that I am doing my part to SPREAD THE WORD. I have friends and family who are readers like myself and have recommmended the books and have have informed them of HBO’s involvement. I also have friends and family who will NEVER crack open a book to save their lives, but who love movies or shows set in fantasy who I think would love ASOIAF and word of mouth is a very powerful tool…so SPREAD THE WORD!!!

  • “Do they have any record of supporting expensive dramas beyond 1 or 2 seasons?”

    Dr Who has been around for 40 years and, while not expensive a few decades ago, has a big budget now.

    Spooks/MI5 has been around for 8 years now and still going strong and is relatively expensive. there are loads of other examples too, particularly with costume dramas etc so I don’t think you have anything to be concerned about as far as the BBC are concerned. Unless Jonathan Ross or Russel Brand are cast in the show and then BBC license payers will demand “this filth” be taken off air ;)

  • Strange calculations…

    My wife bought the first 4 books, yet 11 people read each of those, and of those, I’d say 8 are “addicts”. All of those would watch the series if they had a chance.

  • Yes, as someone else said both DOCTOR WHO and SPOOKS are very expensive and both have stayed on the air for a fair few years (‘new’ WHO will start filming its fifth season in a few months and they are already working on four big-budget specials for this year). I believe HUSTLE is also fairly expensive for the BBC, as is LIFE ON MARS/ASHES TO ASHES (currently on its fourth season, with a change in name/format only due to the lead actor leaving).

    TORCHWOOD is on its third season, although it’s been streamlined down to a five-part mini-series this year. SURVIVORS and MERLIN are also fairly expensive among its newer shows (both are getting second seasons this year).

  • If they put this online with streaming accessibility they will have a much higher viewer base. Fortunately we nerdy are a generally computer literate bunch, but one of the difficulties that presents us is that many, MANY, people will download these shows illegally. One of the best features of websites like Hulu is it allows people to view content they cannot see/will not pay for where the creators can track it and sell adds.

    HBO to my knowledge simply doesn’t have plans to expand to this type of service, and considering people pay separately for HBO it may not even work at all with their business model.

    All that being said, I think everyone should go out of their way to email HBO execs and promise to pay for full time HBO if this series gets green lighted, even if you don’t. It’ll pick up enough people outside the ASoF fan base. Heck, Legend of the Seeker did…

  • One of the anons above had it right to my knowledge; HBO pays attention less to audience numbers and more to critical acclaim and awards. Not that it doesn’t care about ratings numbers at all, just that a show can have 500K-1M viewers or so but keep getting renewed if critics and award groups are slobbering all over it.

    Do HBO shows even have commercial ads? I don’t know, since I don’t currently subscribe. If they do, those ad-views are really the only reason I can think of for HBO to care a lot about audience numbers.

  • In addition to viewership, one also has to factor in DVD sales, which tend to be disproportionately high for science fiction TV shows compared to other genres; this bodes well because there’s a great deal of overlap between sci-fi and fantasy fandom, and good reason to think their DVD-buying habits will be similar.

    Looking at the top fifty DVD best sellers on Amazon, you’ll see a whole lot of movies, and just a few TV series, which include all four available seasons of Battlestar Galactica plus the miniseries Caprica, and, remarkably, Firefly, sitting in the #45 spot more than six years after the series was cancelled and three and a half years after the movie was released. (Not that remarkable, though, as I tend to agree with the assessment that it’s the best TV series ever cancelled.)

    Most of the other TV bestsellers are recent releases, and some of them have sci-fi elements as well: the latest seasons of Smallville and Dexter are there, along with the complete series of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (there’s a strong argument that the James Bond style of gadget-heavy espionage against evil NGOs like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or T.H.R.U.S.H. bent on conquering the world is a sub-genre of science fiction). Also, #50 on the list is the latest season of The Tudors, the success of which could also bode well for Game of Thrones.

    Looking at the rest of the top 100, you’ll find sets of True Blood, Moonlight, Lost, Rome, 24, and more Dexter. The bottom line is that sci-fi, paranormal, costume drama, and espionage shows rule the TV-on-DVD market, and if Game of Thrones is any good HBO can count on it joining that company and making them a big pile of money on top of what they make in added subscriptions, probably moreso than any of the other series in development which will be competing for money and a time slot with this one.

  • Well, my personal favorite HBO series was Carnivale from HBO….Which was a show steeped in fantasy and mystical stuff. It had great writing, acting and was very character oreinted.
    It was cancelled after 2 seasons.

    Here are the ratings according to a wiki article:

    Carnivàle aired on HBO on a Sunday 9:00PM timeslot during its two-season run between 2003 and 2005. “Milfay”, Carnivàle’s pilot episode, drew 5.3 million viewers for its premiere on September 14, 2003. This marked the best ever debut for an HBO original series at the time, caused in part by the established HBO series Sex and the City being Carnivàle’s lead-in. This record was broken on March 21, 2004 by HBO series Deadwood, which debuted with 5.8 million viewers as the lead-out of The Sopranos.[2][64]

    Viewership dropped to 3.49 million for Carnivàle’s second episode but remained stable for the remainder of the season. The final episode of season one finished with 3.5 million viewers on November 30, 2003. Season one averaged 3.54 viewers and a household rating of 2.41.[65]

    Viewership for the second season opening on 9 January 2005 was down by two thirds to 1.81 million.[66] The ratings never recovered to their first-season highs, although the season two finale experienced an upswing with 2.40 million viewers on March 27, 2005. Season 2 averaged 1.7 million viewers, not enough to avert an imminent cancellation.[67]