News

Ratings hold steady despite early release, holiday weekend

The ratings for this past Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones are in. They came in a day later due to the holiday, which was also a reason many people were predicting a fall-off. That coupled with the early release of episode 7 on HBO Go made it a sure bet that the ratings would drop. So naturally… they stayed the same. James Hibberd has the numbers:

Thrones viewership was … unchanged. Another 2.4 million viewers for its premiere airing, for a total of 3.2 million for the night. What’s vaguely still impressive about this: Overall viewership for the night across television was down 21 percent due to the weekend.

Winter Is Coming: I’ve given up trying to predict the week-to-week ratings. At this point, I’m just hoping for a solid number for the finale and then some strong DVD/Blu-Ray sales so we can open with a big premiere for season two.

65 Comments

  • Awesome. Either Game of Thrones audience is very loyal and doesn’t care about holidays or this episode being in another weekend would have had a shitload of viewers. I am begging for the last one.

  • Curious. The steadiness of the ratings continues to impress me. That said, it’s worth remembering that what we are contemplating here is the behavior of ~500 people with Nielsen boxes.

    I’ll be very interested to hear the HBOGO numbers when they are available, especially since that’s how I watched it.

  • Maybe having it on HBOGO a week in advance caused more of a “water cooler” effect than we might expect. It’s an unusual situation to be able to have some fans talk about the episode in advance of it’s actual airing. Curious how that might’ve affected the numbers.,

  • Episode 8 will be interesting. If tv viewing as a whole was down 20% on Sunday, then surely a more accurate figure would be 3 million?

  • That’s about the best it could have done considering it was a holiday and many people had seen it on HBO GO already. It looks like more people was the encore airing this week.

    I have been re-reading ASoS and when people ask me about it, I say, “You know the show Game of Thrones.” And they reply “No.” That kind of concerns me. It’s one thing for them not to watch it but to not to be aware of its existence. I wonder how much this show will be able to grow over the next year.

  • Chris Kw.,

    There a plently of people I know who I could ask the same question but replace GoT with True Blood or Deadwood or Boardwalk Empire and they’d say the same thing. Some people just don’t watch or keep up with tv. I’d say the only HBO show that the vast majority of people have heard of is The Sopranos

  • Is it really so hard in this modern day to move away from the Nielsen rating system? I don’t see why HBO couldn’t figure out a way to know exactly how many folks are watching their show at one time. Just seems very antiquated how they do it. Could someone explain why they can’t?

  • Nick, I’m not sure we can look at it like that. To me it seems that this show has established a fan base of around 2.5 million viewers. Those viewers are very dedicated and will make plans to watch the show even on a holiday weekend (or watch it again it they happened to watch it early on HBO Go).

    Of course, James Hibberd disagrees with me. We will see what happens next week…

  • Nick,

    Maybe that means we can predict a roughly 0.5 million increase next week with no distractions? Who has at least 2.8? :)

  • Winter Is Coming,

    Which I think points out the deeply flawed system of the Neilson ratings. I know it’s the best they can do, but if they’ve got 125 neilson households regularly tuning in (1 box=20,000 viewers I think) then it’s really hard to get a true picture. For example, I think it’s true to say that overall GoT viewership was down 20% just like for every other show, but that doesn’t mean that the neilson households were down 20%, those 125 people may all be diehard fans or something. Neilson themselves give a margin of error of 0.3 million I think. Last weeks 2.4 million could have actually been 2.7, and if next week gets 3 million, it could really be 2.7 as well. Daft system really. Still, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the numbers each week!

  • This only tells me one thing. The 4500 or so people who have HBO and a neilson box don’t have HBO Go. It’s not worth all the hand ringing that goes on.

  • I believe the 3.2 is actually up from last week, strange as that may seem. We have to remember the way HBO functions and first viewing numbers don’t really matter. If people are watching later or on on demand it’s all the same. That being said it is fun looking at the first numbers.

  • I’m more interested in the cumulative number over the course of the week. HBO doesn’t have advertisers, so the ratings for one or two showings don’t matter to them as they try to stress, GoT’s real numbers, the ones HBO goes by, are actually around 8 million.

  • Kingthlayer:
    Is it really so hard in this modern day to move away from the Nielsen rating system? I don’t see why HBO couldn’t figure out a way to know exactly how many folks are watching their show at one time. Just seems very antiquated how they do it. Could someone explain why they can’t?

    A. I have satellite and don’t have my box connected to a phone line so there is no way for Directv (or anyone else) to gather data on what I am watching at any given time.

    B. Unless I’m getting compensated in some way I’m not so sure that I want my privacy invaded that way.

  • Tim:
    I’m more interested in the cumulative number over the course of the week. HBO doesn’t have advertisers, so the ratings for one or two showings don’t matter to them as they try to stress, GoT’s real numbers, the ones HBO goes by, are actually around 8 million.

    I think the numbers that HBO actually goes by is subscribers. I’m sure they would never release the data but I’m curious how many people like me subscribed the week before GoT premiered and are going to cancel the week after the finale?

  • I’ve been a participant in Nielsen studies in brief, where I let them know what I watched or listened to over a period of 1-2 weeks. I like supporting the shows I enjoy.

    Ultimately, HBO has a few different ways to gauge the value of the show. Subscribers to the network, merchandise, home vidoe release, and HBO Go viewings. Nielsen ratings are just a factor among many others.

  • I agree with WiC: it seems like the show has established a 2.4-2.5 fanbase that stays constant. Everytime we assume ratings will increase due to the show’s action picking up…the numbers either stay the same or take a drop (which is probably statistical noise moreso than anything else).

    Hopefully we’re wrong and last week’s strong cliffhanger leads to some viewers. I’m really interested in seeing how the finale does, which could provide a bar for S2.

  • Good news I guess, I expected ratings to drop due to HBO GO and advanced screening of episode 7.

    I would like to see how much was episode viewed on HBO GO but a dry number wouldn’t be very telling if we don’t have anything to compare it by.

  • Hard to see em going down this week. Only competition is going to be NBA finals. When they dropped a bit for episode 6, it was a week where all the networks were airing the season finales of those shows, plus the NBA playoffs.

    It’s also encouraging that all my non-reader friends have lost their mind about the end of episode 7. Some serious word of mouth on this one.

    It’s has been so fun watching people who would never pick up the book experience the story for the first time. I’ve been harping on these books for years and most people were dismissive, and now there’s a parade of people at my desk every monday super-stoked to talk about the show.

  • This is good news (the best news being Jesus loves GoT and U), but I am surprised being the Go premiere and holiday weekend the numbers held steady, this bodes well for the closing episodes and might (hopefully) see a number closer to 3 mil and perhaps even 10 mil weekly numbers by finale.
    OT a little, it dawned on me why we won’t see GoT moving to a Winter timeslot of January.
    Let’s see Jan. is football playoff month, and early Feb. is Superbowl Sunday, then there’s is March Madness which would occur at the end of a supposed Winter season, so you would only have 4-5 weeks with no stiff competition.

  • Kingthlayer: Is it really so hard in this modern day to move away from the Nielsen rating system? I don’t see why HBO couldn’t figure out a way to know exactly how many folks are watching their show at one time. Just seems very antiquated how they do it. Could someone explain why they can’t?

    HBO does know, it just doesn’t divulge. :)
    The Nielsons are valuable because they are an independent service that discloses all ratings for the benefit of the advertisers who don’t want to trust self-disclosure by individual networks and pay channels, for obvious reasons. A similar system exists for reporting subscriptions and newstand sales of periodicals for the same purpose—to assist advertisers in deciding how and where to spend their dollars.
    The Nielsons are outdated and extremely imperfect; nonetheless, they are the only game in town and they have proved quite helpful to advertisers over many decades and have resisted efforts to tweak their formula from a number of vested interests. If they hadn’t the service would have gone under many years ago.

  • More Rice Cooks,

    I am waiting for DVD release (please HBO give us a extended cut version), hopefully around December. Some think a March release, but you want time for the DVD sales and rentals (netflix) and streaming to build up a strong new base of interested viewers, and that is why HBO should release in early Dec. in time for Christmas sales and gives the show 3 months to build up steam for season 2.

  • I hope the Bluray is released (around the English-speaking world) reasonably soon after the season ends, certainly in time for the holiday season. Is it possible that dvd sales could contribute towards increasing the budget for the second season or is the timing off for something like that?

  • Don’t HBO shows take forever to be released on DVD though? Boardwalk Empire, which ended on Dec 5th, still has not been released on DVD/Blu-Ray; the second season premiers this fall.

  • More Rice Cooks,

    The HBO strategy for its tentpole series is to release the DVDs in the USA a few weeks before the next season debuts, so BE’s first season DVDs will appear in July or August. The rationale is that as new viewers hear the hype for the upcoming season, they may be tempted to pick up the DVD of the previous season to get up to speed. Once HBO Go is available to all HBO providers, that may be less necessary, but the DVD buyers are also potential new HBO subscribers, so they wouldn’t have had access to HBO Go in any case. Time will tell.

  • I wouldn’t expect much of a jump for episode 8 – Game 3 of the NBA finals will be on at the same time

    although i am definitely happy to hear we stayed the same given the HBOGo release and holiday weekend

  • adayne:
    I wouldn’t expect much of a jump for episode 8 – Game 3 of the NBA finals will be on at the same time

    although i am definitely happy to hear we stayed the same given the HBOGo release and holiday weekend

    See this is the part I don’t understand. With DVRs (heck even VCRs) in existence, does it really matter what channel the tube itself it showing

  • There are ratings with DVR tapings included.

    Frankly, I expect the subset of people who would use HBO GO and don’t have a DVR is probably pretty low. I watched on HBO GO, but my season pass still taped Ep 7. I suspect that that happened a lot.

  • Kingthlayer: Is it really so hard in this modern day to move away from the Nielsen rating system? I don’t see why HBO couldn’t figure out a way to know exactly how many folks are watching their show at one time. Just seems very antiquated how they do it. Could someone explain why they can’t?

    Then you get into the question of privacy. While the cable companies surely know what each and every person is watching, they can’t very well release that data. Even in the broad strokes of “X-million people watched this show,” many people would not stand for any aspect of their private life being analyzed for statistics.

    I, personally, am torn. While I’d love for my personal viewership of certain shows (especially GoT) to count for SOMETHING, I’d feel very uncomfortable if “Big Brother” was telling people what I was doing in the privacy of my own home.

  • What unexpected and fatastic news. I predict a significant rise in numbers next week.

    Hey Winter, have you received any screeners for the second part of the season? Curious.

  • The loyal fanbase for this show isn’t 2.5 million, it’s 3 million-ish. That’s the number the show consistently hits on the first day it airs. I don’t think the people who catch the second showing are any less loyal fans.

    Of course, you could say the same about people watching any number of the later showings, or downloading OnDemand, so…

  • The Winter Rose,

    One year. It should, by all accounts, air at the same time next year. possibly a little sooner, if they don’t have a miniseries lined up for the spring.

  • Prankster,

    That’s a good point. I guess, to account for the DVR stuff, we can say GoT has a 3 million strong fan base of people who want to see it the night of, to be up to date for water cooler talk on Monday. And about 5 million more who watch it before the next episode airs. (Based loosely on the ~8 million weekly totals from th earlier episodes).

    Speaking of which, why haven’t we gotten any updates on the overall views in a few weeks? Hibberd stopped reporting the number.

  • DH87:
    More Rice Cooks,

    The HBO strategy for its tentpole series is to release the DVDs in the USA a few weeks before the next season debuts, so BE’s first season DVDs will appear in July or August. The rationale is that as new viewers hear the hype for the upcoming season, they may be tempted to pick up the DVD of the previous season to get up to speed. Once HBO Go is available to all HBO providers, that may be less necessary, but the DVD buyers are also potential new HBO subscribers, so they wouldn’t have had access to HBO Go in any case. Time will tell.

    Ordinarily this would be true. But HBO sees the DVD Blu-Ray market — at least for its first run boxed sets, as primarily a marketing tool to promote subscriptions.

    With Game of Thrones, the question is whether the Blu-Ray for a best-selling genre show with a hardcore enthusiastic fanbase is better positioned as a profit centre first, marketing tool second. Given the show’s second season planned for April 2012, a November release targeted at the Xmas market is a reasonable decision for HBO to make and is a possible middle ground that HBO may choose.

    What they will end up doing is anyone’s guess, but, imo, the two most likely dates are:

    – Nov. 25, 2011 (Xmas/profit centre); or
    – March 6, 2012 release (marketing tool).

  • OT but I just want to mention that I really like the music used in the Last Times of GoT thing they had this past episode. Kinda wish more of the onscreen music had that somewhat midlevel, atmospheric feel.

  • Thanks for the info everyone, I know see it’s a necessary evil.

    I do believe that there could be a non-privacy-violating way to measure it. I know it’s not like the internet where items are on a specific server and by measuring how much server usage goes into one video you could determine fairly accurately how many times it has been watched (and maybe it doesn’t work like that exactly) but if you could use a system like that and just determined how many times it had been watched versus who exactly watched it, it could work. The way I understand it though, cable doesn’t work like that; the tv channels I pay for are virtually always “on” whether or not I’m watching them. Maybe someday it’ll get more accurate.

    I will still devote myself to these posts

    and my favorite show of course

  • The ratings for the finale could go either way. Either people will drop it because of the episode 9 cliffhanger, or they get even more hooked on the show.

  • daveb,

    I fail to see how anonymous statistics could violate anyone’s privacy. It’s not as if there would be any possible way for someone to determine what one of the millions of HBO subscribers was watching at a given time.

  • I’m inclined to agree with James Hibberd: this is probably very good news.

    Strictly anecdata here, but: last week I went out for drinks with co-workers, and at some point one of them asked “so is anyone else watching Game of Thrones?” Yes, 4 or 5 of us (out of a group of 9 or 10), and all really eager to talk about it. None of them GRRM readers except for me. Very strong reactions (typical sentiments: LOVE Arya! HATE that blonde family!) indicating a pretty fair level of investment. Take that for what it’s worth, but it tells me that this is serious water-cooler TV–which suggests a lot of potential for building audience.

  • I’m doing piracy now, torrenting every episode and not paying a dime to HBO. I live in a middle east country and don’t have access to HBO – nor any network airs the show. Yet when the dvds are relased I will just order them from Amazon – 2 sets already one for me and one for my gf. Just saying, do not underestimate the fan base of GoT merely looking at rating or viewer number data.

    The series also made us buy the 4 books, and I would probably buy other related merchandise like games or comics etc if they have the similar quality. There are just so many factors regarding if HBO will continue to renew Game of Thrones following years, I just hope they learned from Carnivale and won’t slaughter a potential classic before it gets ripe.

  • GaR: daveb,

    I fail to see how anonymous statistics could violate anyone’s privacy. It’s not as if there would be any possible way for someone to determine what one of the millions of HBO subscribers was watching at a given time.

    It’s just a big-picture thing. If you want to use me as a statistic, I need to consent to it. I’m still torn on this issue, but it’s easier to use myself as an example. I don’t mean to come across as a paranoid bastard who’s watching copious amounts of porn and The Voice, but I’m slightly fascinated by this argument.

    So, for arguments sake, lets say that it becomes possible/legal to release true viewership ratings. On a national level, this doesn’t really appear to violate much privacy, because it’s talking about millions of anonymous persons. At this level, it just becomes a matter of principle.

    But a system like this would certain lead to state ratings. County ratings. City ratings. Town ratings. If they haven’t already. Again, really no way of pinning down what a single household is watching, but the pool is dwindling. Lets say your small town of 300 have their ratings released. 5 people the night before tuned into “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.” If i’m one of the offenders with terrible movie taste, I’m a little bit perturbed that people know someone watched it, and terrified that someone will know it was me.

    I think I would totally support something like this, as long as it required consent. And a person should be able to opt out. If cable companies require you to consent to some kind of rating system like this, or else not being able to get the service, that becomes a problem.

  • daveb,

    I have no idea if statistics are gathered by cable providers, or the legalities involved, but how would this be different than surfing the internet? After all, right now Google is tracking you and everyone else who comes here, where they came from to get here, your IP address, etc. Not only that, but they are selling this information to advertisers, all without explicit consent.

    And, 3.2 viewers, is that all! We’re all doomed! :)

  • Ellen:
    Semi-OT:

    New fans are jumping on board everyday.I love the “Oh No They Didn’t” LivejournalCommunity and their devotion to GoT.The gifs are hysterical, and its great to see so many show fans that have become book fans.

    http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/tag/game%20of%20thrones

    The Oh No They Didn’t fans are off the wall! A very snarky, intelligent, and enthusiastic fan base. And YES, amazing gifs! :)

    How thoroughly have they embraced the show? For a celebrity gossip hub, the tag ‘Game of Thrones’ has been unwaveringly ‘hot’ for many, many weeks without fail–right alongside tags Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Beyonce. Quite the achievement, IMO.

  • JWestfall: I have no idea if statistics are gathered by cable providers, or the legalities involved, but how would this be different than surfing the internet? After all, right now Google is tracking you and everyone else who comes here, where they came from to get here, your IP address, etc. Not only that, but they are selling this information to advertisers, all without explicit consent.

    And, 3.2 viewers, is that all! We’re all doomed! :)

    Excellent point. I concede :)

    Somehow, I think that whether GoT airs unopposed by major television event or holiday, or all by it’s lonesome, we’re getting 3.2 million regardless :)

  • daveb,

    I have bad news for you then; you’re already contributing to such statistics. If you don’t like that kind of specific tracking, you’d best stay off the internet.

    ::edit::

    Damn, well beaten.

  • The reason Nielsen maintains control on the ratings market is because they collect demographic information of the viewers – not just raw numbers regarding TVs on a certain channel. Obviously it’s theoretically possible to take the information from cable and satellite providers and determine the exact number of boxes tuned to a certain channel. But you wouldn’t know exactly who or how many in that household was watching the show.

    An interesting side now regarding whether the ratings will go up next week, despite the fact that the total number of viewers was only down slightly, the 18-49 share for the show dropped from 1.2 to 0.9 – which is a noticeable drop. Kind of makes sense since the 18-49 demographic is more likely to have been partying over the three-day weekend. So there’s a shot that when those numbers return you’ll see an uptick in total viewers.

  • I am confused. So the numbers stayed the same despite the fact that the episode was released early. I mean I watched it early HBO GO and did not watch it again on Sunday, I would assume a bunch of people did that and I would also assume the people most likely to watch the episode on HBO GO would be the loyal fans so its amazing that it still got so great number despite HBO GO giving loyal fans an opportunity to not watch it on Sunday. I wonder what would of happened if HBO GO did not release it early?

  • Eugene Toussaint:
    I am confused. So the numbers stayed the same despite the fact that the episode was released early. I mean I watched it early HBO GO and did not watch it again on Sunday, I would assume a bunch of people did that and I would also assume the people most likely to watch the episode on HBO GO would be the loyal fans so its amazing that it still got so great number despite HBO GO giving loyal fans an opportunity to not watch it on Sunday. I wonder what would of happened if HBO GO did not release it early?

    Only those viewers who have the Nielsen box can affect ratings. Nobody else. What the general audience does is irrelevant as long as the Nielsen viewers are watching the show regularly. And it seems there is a steady base of Nielsen viewers for the show, who will watch it no matter what sports game is on or what holiday they’re supposed to be celebrating etc. The 2.5M rating equates to about 500 Nielsen viewers, so that’s the number of people that are watching the show every week on its initial airing that can affect the rating. Even if every other American had their TV’s mysteriously smashed to little pieces and couldn’t watch the show, but the 500 Nielsen viewers did watch it, the show would get a rating of ~2.5M.

  • I really dread your reports about the ratings, and I try to avoid them. Not sucessfully obviously. Low numbers or a big decline would sort of ruin my enjoyment of the show somewhat. Thank the old gods that’s not the case.

  • daveb: Then you get into the question of privacy. While the cable companies surely know what each and every person is watching, they can’t very well release that data. Even in the broad strokes of “X-million people watched this show,” many people would not stand for any aspect of their private life being analyzed for statistics.

    Ha. Cable companies and DVR providers can and do release that data. Many people would not stand for it if they bothered to find out about it… but they won’t bother.

    Folks also assume the ads that they see are the same ones everyone else is seeing. That will increasingly be a bad assumption, as cable et al get better at providing viewer-specific advertising based on viewing habits.

  • I would probably say that the ratings would go up next week but seeing as the only pattern here is proving viewers wrong, I’am going to say its going to decline. :P