'Game of Thrones' viewership grows to nearly 20 million

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HBO’s unsullied army has grown big enough to invade Westeros. And if you actually understand that opener, it’s probably because you’re one of the nearly 20 million people who are caught up on Game of Thrones.

As part of Time Warner’s quarterly earnings report Tuesday, the company noted that Thrones viewership has swelled to a record-high of 19 million viewers. That massive number includes all the different ways the show is consumed—original airings, repeats, DVR playback and streaming. It also represents a major gain on the next-day numbers that are usually reported, which tend to be around 7 million.

Giving context to this audience size is tricky, since Thrones is by far the most-watched show on premium cable. But comparing Thrones to broadcast shows isn’t really fair either, for either party. Broadcast episodes often air only once instead of multiple times, as on HBO. Yet HBO is available in “only” about 29 million households, compared to the average potential broadcast audience of around 115 million U.S. homes. And let’s not even get started on illegal downloading, which Thrones dominates. So with the caveat that this comparison is apples-to-orangutans, CBS’ top-rated The Big Bang Theory averaged 22 million viewers last season, including DVR and streaming. So did the most-watched drama CBS’ NCIS.

That said, there is still one show that’s much higher than any of these, and it’s on basic cable: AMC claims an incredible 28 million viewers per episode for The Walking Dead season 4, including repeats and streaming.

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