“All men must die,” goes the common saying in HBO’s fantasy drama “Game of Thrones.” And as all men must die, so too must all live TV ratings drop.
The highly anticipated Season 6 premiere of “Game of Thrones” drew an impressive 7.9 million viewers in its Sunday night time slot, but that’s down slightly from both the Season 5 premiere (just shy of 8 million) and finale (8.1 million).
When you roll in streaming numbers from HBO Now and HBO Go, and the encore airings of the episode on HBO that night, the total viewership rises to 10.7 million.
HBO isn’t ad-supported, so that 18-49 demo doesn’t carry the same importance as with other networks, but all the same, “Thrones” clocked in at an impressive 5.08 million 18-49ers for the 9 p.m. Sunday hour.
HBO Now, which is available over the internet without a traditional cable subscription, had 800,000 subscribers as of February, and large numbers of people watch via the HBO Go app, so touting streaming numbers is legitimate in this case. HBO also opened itself up for a free preview weekend on several big pay TV providers, though those viewers aren’t counted by Nielsen, since they aren’t HBO subscribers.
That didn’t stop a big chunk of Americans from viewing through extralegal means. “Game of Thrones” has topped lists of most-pirated TV shows for years now, and this season is no exception. Around 184,000 U.S. households watched the “Thrones” premiere using an illegal streaming site or downloading a torrented copy within 24 hours of its airing, according to data from Tru Optik, a company that measures streaming activity. (That’s more than double the number U.S. of households that pirated all of the latest season of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” incidentally.)
Globally, HBO is looking at 2.1 million households pirating the “Thrones” premiere, of which the U.S. was the biggest offender, followed closely by India and Brazil.
The good news is that 184,000 homes, while not exactly a drop in the viewership bucket, isn’t catastrophic for HBO, which, together with sibling premium channel Cinemax, has 46 million subscribers in the U.S. In fact, according to Tru Optik CEO Andre Swanston, those scofflaws represent an opportunity: Target pirates with ads for a free month of HBO Now or a free preview weekend, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hook a few of them.