While HBO’s immensely popular series Game of Thrones continues to face potential threats more damaging than wights and White Walkers in piracy, the latest ratings show that it’s doing quite well even with the specter of content theft. Despite its status as the most pirated show on the planet, the number of legal viewers have actually experienced an uptick compared to this point last season.
According to a ratings report, the April 12 Season 5 premiere for Game of Thrones, “The Wars to Come,” brought in a whopping 18.1 million viewers in the collective cross-platform (including HBO Go, Now, etc.)Live+7 ratings. The figure actually surpasses the analogous numbers for the 2014 Season 4 premiere by 1.2 million people. That season ultimately averaged 19.1 million per episode, which is certainly an auspicious sign for this year’s run. When compared to the conventional ratings for the Season 5 premiere a few weeks back, which cited 7.99 million viewers, it actually tells an interesting tale about the increasingly diverse legal methods with which people are catching the show.
To put this into perspective, the numbers indicate that, of the 18.1 million people who apparently watched the Season 5 kickoff by legal methods, about 10.11 million may have chosen to do so by way of HBO’s newly-fortified streaming platforms headed by the recently-launched standalone service HBO Now, as well as the subscriber-accessible HBO Go and on-demand. It’s potentially a tremendous source of validation regarding the network’s infrastructure investment; especially after that same premiere episode would hemorrhage as many as a million viewers when it briefly leaked online earlier in the day it was to air.
Of course, it’s difficult to determine what this means in the broader scope of HBO’s battle against piracy. Estimated numbers for the Season 4 finale last year implied as many as 7.5 million illegal downloads occurred. It’s a huge chunk of an audience by any standards and it’s certainly a lot more than the reported gains in legitimate viewers for the Season 5 premiere. In that respect, the numbers could be interpreted subjectively to possibly reflect the idea that HBO’s new streaming infrastructure managed to chip away at a respectable fraction of piracy practices. That would be especially promising when considering that HBO Now just launched.
However, there’s another angle with which to approach these numbers that might prove a more straightforward theory. It could just be that Game of Thrones is continuing to gain new viewers five whole seasons into the thick of things. The show is anything but an accessible procedural like CSI or NCIS that can easily be watched sporadically with minimal consistency in viewing habits. Rather, it’s a sprawling, intricately-crafted, demanding character-centric drama that requires a huge binge-watching commitment from any potential newbie. Thus, the idea that such a show going into its fifth season could not only hold on to its viewership, but actually continue to find growth in new viewers would also indicate something phenomenal.
Either way, it’s good news for the HBO drama, which is committed for at least one more season. Yet, a critical roadblock remains as deep-rooted fans anxiously await The Winds of Winter, the next novel from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that inspired the show. While the series is already demonstrating radical storyline deviations from the books, its enduring popularity may nevertheless come down to how soon the novel can finally hit shelves and provide the critical guideposts for possible seasons beyond.