'Game of Thrones' whacks 'The Sopranos' to become HBO's most popular show ever

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HBO has crowned a new ratings king. Fantasy hit Game of Thrones has officially surpassed mob drama The Sopranos to become the most-watched show in the premium cable network’s history, HBO confirmed for the first time Thursday.

With two episodes remaining in the fourth season, Thrones has an average gross audience of 18.4 million viewers across all platforms. That surpasses the previous record set by the 2002 peak season of The Sopranos, which had an average gross audience of 18.2 million viewers per episode. Last season of Thrones had an average gross audience of 14.4 million viewers per episode. The news comes as Thrones has set several recent ratings records for its own performance this season.

Over the past year, many suspected that Thrones had surpassed Sopranos in popularity. But HBO analysists waited until they were able to confirm Thrones‘ victory using the strictest comparison data between the two shows, especially since the pay cable network’s method of measuring ratings has evolved over the years. Also, there have been dramatic changes in the way media is consumed that unavoidably impacts the numbers. The rise of DVR playback helps boost Thrones‘ viewership, and HBO now offers streaming of its shows via HBO Go — methods of watching and counting the audience that were unavailable during the peak of The Sopranos’ reign. But on the other hand, the rise of online piracy has meant that many millions are watching Thrones who are not counted, with the fantasy hit typically ranking as the most illegally downloaded U.S. TV program.

The next episode of Thrones debuts Sunday, June 8 and chronicles the Battle of Castle Black. Once again, EW.com will have live recapping coverage and post-episode interviews. It’s followed by the season finale Sunday, June 15.

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