‘John Adams’ off to capital start

HBO miniseries avgerages 2.4 million viewers

The first two episodes of HBO’s seven-part “John Adams” miniseries got off to a solid start Sunday night, averaging 2.7 million total viewers.

That was higher than an episode of the “Rome” miniseries, which drew 2.4 million viewers, in the time period a year ago.

The “John Adams” numbers were welcome news to HBO because the network is coming off a subpar February. John Malone’s Starz delivered such strong Nielsen ratings in February that it scored two firsts, beating HBO in total day for a given month and wrestling it to a tie in primetime.

For the full 24-hour day in February, Starz averaged a 0.7 household rating to HBO’s 0.6. In primetime, each averaged a 1.0. (But HBO still wins in actual numbers of households because each network’s universe is different: Starz reaches only about 16 million homes compared with HBO’s 30 million.)

Starz’s potency extended to the key demo of adults 18-49, where its 0.6 rating beat HBO’s 0.5, another first for Starz in its 12-year history. The two networks tied in total day with a 0.3 rating among adults 18-49.

HBO said one of the key reasons it had a substandard month was that the low-rated nightly “In Treatment” half-hour series has thrown off the network’s normal primetime schedule, forcing it to shift movies and other programming to one of its multiplex networks.

The damage done to HBO by “In Treatment’s” failure to catch on comes through in the year-to-year comparisons, which show HBO off in primetime by 36% in total viewers and down by 40% in 18-49, compared with the numbers in February 2007.

The total-day falloffs are just as nerve-wracking: HBO is down by 36% in total viewers February to February and by 34% in adults 18-49.

By contrast, Starz is up by substantial double digits across the board for February in total viewers and 18-49 in both primetime and total day.

HBO has taken steps to get more people to watch “In Treatment” by making it available free on HBO.com and new-media platforms such as Amazon’s Unbox, video iPods and YouTube.

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