HBO show up sharply in ratings, tops cable for week

Spring tends to sap the ratings strength of just about every show, but some — including HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — are holding up better than most.

After kicking off its second season with a series-best 3.8 million viewers, the lavish fantasy epic proceeded to deliver about the same number of viewers with each of its three subsequent episodes, according to Nielsen estimates.

This in itself is impressive, as daylight-saving time, school breaks and other spring distractions conspire to drag down the ratings for even TV’s biggest hits at this time of year. Also, most shows tend to see ratings declines following their premieres, no matter what time of year.

But for the week of April 9-15, “Game of Thrones” also achieved another impressive feat as it stood as cable’s top-rated scripted primetime program for the week in both total viewers and adults 18-49 (see chart, left), topping the likes of FX’s “Justified” and AMC’s “Mad Men.” This despite the fact that HBO is available in roughly 30 million homes, compared with basic-cable biggies like USA and TNT that are available in 100 million or more homes.

HBO isn’t necessarily in the ratings game — the pay cabler cares more about supplying its subscribers with satisfying programming than how a program draws on any single night — but it can use the initial telecast of any show to garner interest. And “Throne’s” average audience for the Sunday 9 p.m. airings this spring (3.8 million) is up about 50% from a year ago (2.3 million).

Looking only at HBO homes, “Thrones” is averaging an 8.3 rating, meaning roughly one in 12 subscriber households is watching the premiere telecast. This is about what TV’s most-watched Sunday series, “60 Minutes,” was averaging this month.

Of course, nearly everybody who watches the CBS newsmag does so on Sunday night, while HBO gives fans of “Thrones” numerous chances to watch the show every week. If you count the dozen replays on HBO (including two immediately following the initial Sunday telecast) and the network’s on-demand service, the show’s gross audience surpasses 11 million, compared with 9.3 million for its rookie season, HBO says.

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