The heavily hyped debut of Game of Thrones couldn’t come close to the premiere of HBO’s last big drama series, Boardwalk Empire, yet it still turned in a solid number Sunday night.
The first episode delivered a decent 2.2 million viewers for its premiere airing, then a rather strong 1.2 million for its first encore (the NBA playoff game between the Celtics and Knicks might have pushed some viewership to the second airing), and another 800,000 for the third telecast for an overall healthy total of 4.2 million. HBO then aired Thrones six times across all its channels Monday night, and those numbers will be added to this post later today.
Thrones first telecast was down 54 percent from the premiere of 2010′s Boardwalk (4.8 million) which received an immediate second season renewal. Yet HBO always takes into account what Sunday show was used to ramp up viewers to the new program’s premiere, and Thrones had a weak platform — Mildred Pierce, which averaged around 1 million viewers, a number Thrones more than doubled.
What’s perhaps the closest ratings comparison to a fantasy series like Thrones is HBO’s other genre drama, True Blood. A prestigious crime drama Boardwalk is much more in the traditional HBO viewership wheelhouse. Compared to the vampire show, Thrones did really well. Blood only opened with 1.4 million viewers, and similarly had no real platform to launch from, but then went on to grow week after week into a major hit for the network.
Also, and this is important, in the UK the premiere did really well — Thrones set a Sky Atlantic ratings record with 750,000 viewers, beating the previous record holder, which was … Boardwalk Empire.
So what does all this mean for Thrones? The premiere number is good, not great. HBO would have loved for the first airing of Thrones to have been in the 3 million range, but will definitely take anything in the 2s. The next question: How many viewers will stick around next week?
UPDATE: Thrones repeat airings on Monday added another 1.2 million to the viewership tally (this is definitely considered good, btw).
HUGE UPDATE: HBO renews Game of Thrones for second season!