Game of Thrones Returns To Good Ratings

The critics swooned over screeners, the social media buzz is sky high, and the first season box set released last month sold 350,000 copies in the first week – not just breaking sales records for the network but smashing them.

Now the second season of “Game of Thrones” premiered on HBO on Sunday night in the U.S. and many have been wondering how it fared ratings wise. ‘Thrones” is a premium cable show, thus ratings aren’t as important a factor as they are on free-to-air and basic cable channels. Nevertheless they are a factor.

Thrones’ first season pulled in an average of 2.5 million per episode for its first airing and 9.3 million viewers per episode when replays, DVR and on-demand viewing had been taken into account. The overnight ratings for the first airings jumped from 2.2 million for the pilot to 3.0 million by the time of the first season finale.

Now the overnight ratings for second season premiere’s first airing have come in and it has set a series high – 3.86 million viewers and a 2.0 key demo rating, the latter rating double that of any other cable program that night (according to Zap2It).

Ratings for the encore screenings are just as impressive. The 10pm airing drew 1.48 million, the 11pm airing 943,000. The combined total of 6.28 million is definitely up on the 4.22 million who tuned into the three first night airings of last year’s series premiere. It also cements the show’s place as HBO’s second most popular current series behind only “True Blood” (which averaged just over 5 million viewers on first airings last season).

The competitive night did spill some blood. AMC’s “The Killing” opened soft in its second season with 1.8 million viewers and a 0.5 key demo rating, down a full one-third on its debut last April and -22% on its first season finale. The second episode of the fifth season of “Mad Men” scored 2.9 million and a 1.0 key demo rating, slightly down (17%) from its series high ratings last week.

Back to ‘Thrones’ and Slate Magazine recently posted an excellent article on how the show makes money for HBO despite its sizeable budget (around $60 million for a 10-episode season).

It makes that money back and more from global sales and licensing (historical epics sell and rate very well internationally), 20 million domestic subscribers, 60 million foreign subscribers, DVD/Blu-ray/digital download sales (it owns the show and thus the profits), syndication, and the cherry on top – awards and social media buzz.