Tuesday, 19 April 2011

TV Ratings: 'Game Of Thrones' (HBO & Sky Atlantic)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

After years in development and months of hype, HBO's long-awaited medieval fantasy drama Game Of Thrones made its premiere on Sunday night in the US, attracting 2.2m viewers. Considering the show's expense and lavish marketing drive, that's disappointing but not disastrous. It's double what Mildred Pierce managed recently, but 54% lower than Boardwalk Empire's premiere (4.8m) and worse than any Empire episode from last year. Its performance is comparable to what True Blood averaged over season 1, so it'll potentially grow in popularity like that vampire drama did. Plus, if you factor in Thrones' second repeat (1.2m) and third repeat (800k), that's a very healthy 4.2m people watching the first episode within 48-hours... but will they be back for episode 2 next Sunday?

Here in the UK, Thrones did much better for Sky Atlantic. The show's Monday night premiere drew an impressive average of 743,000 viewers (compared to Empire's debut of 438,000), and that peaked at 823,000. This makes Thrones the fledgling channel's biggest hit to date, and the figure will probably rise by 50% when Sky+ viewing is taken into account.

In the US, people are saying Boardwalk performed better because of Martin Scorsese and Steve Buscemi's involvement, whereas Thrones had nothing similar to lean on. That sounds ridiculous to me, and certainly wasn't the case in the UK -- where Thrones comfortably wiped the floor with Empire's debut.

Personally, I think two things went haywire with Game Of Thrones in the US. Firstly, it's a tough show to encapsulate in a sentence. If anyone asks you what Thrones is about, or why they should watch it, can you give them a satisfying, simple answer? Secondly, the US hype-machine went into overdrive and, frankly, got up people's noses. As a keen Twitterer, even I was exhausted and bored by the number of US critics who were posting Thrones interviews, previews, handy guides, advanced reviews, pre-air reviews, and now post-air reviews with ratings analysis.

Critics certainly have a role to play in championing TV shows, but maybe they should exercise restraint with a huge show like Thrones that's already got the might of HBO behind it? The sheer onslaught of Thrones-related blogs over the past few months has been actively annoying, and even I felt myself getting tired and bored with Thrones before it had even aired!

It possibly didn't help that Thrones is debuting in the spring, now the weather's improved and people are less inclined to be watching TV on a warm evening. I'm pretty sure it would have done better if it debuted in the autumn/winter; a season that would also compliment the show's aesthetic and atmosphere.

What do you think? Any theories on why Thrones wasn't the colossal success HBO wanted, and why it did much better in the UK? Do you think it'll rise to 4m+ viewers over time, or will there be a sharp drop-off next weekend?