your tv ratings explained

More Boys Watch Girls Than Girls

Girls Photo: Jojo Whilden

Girls is a show by and about urban women in their early twenties, so naturally it’s drawing its biggest ratings among white dudes over 50. Wait, what? It’s true: According to Nielsen data supplied to Vulture by HBO, a full 22 percent of Girls’ audience has a penis and was born before the Beatles hit American shores, and no other single demographic group comes close in its love for Lena Dunham and her sexually curious Scooby gang. It’s easy to dismiss this stat as more evidence that Nielsen ratings have about as much credibility as a Lindsay Lohan vow of sobriety. But after crunching the numbers a little harder (with some help from HBO), we found that while actual girls are still in the viewership minority, there are plenty of them watching by other means. As the show prepares for its season-one finale this Sunday, Vulture pit together a list of some more surprising things we discovered about the Girls generation.

It’s not just older guys who really like Girls.
A full 56 percent of the show’s so-called “linear” audience (anybody who watches the premiere or any of the week’s rebroadcasts live or through a DVR) is male; 44 percent is female. By comparison, viewership for True Blood last summer was 52 percent female, though Girls is less testosterone-filled than some other HBO heavyweights: Boardwalk Empire had a 59 percent male audience last fall, while this winter’s batch of Eastbound & Down, not surprisingly, boasted an audience composition that was 69 percent male.

… but women are more likely to watch on their own technological timeline.
It takes longer for HBO to process viewership that takes place through VOD, and so far the network only has data from Girls’ first two episodes. But the early evidence is pretty striking: In a complete reversal of the show’s gender breakdown for linear viewing, a whopping 63 percent of viewers watching Girls on demand are female, according to data from Rentrak, a company that measures VOD usage. (However, this isn’t enough to change the overall male majority, as VOD only makes up for 21 percent of the show’s total weekly viewership.) The women who watch using VOD are younger, too. Nearly half (48 percent) of Girls’ VOD audience is made up of women ages 18 to 49; for the linear broadcasts, the number is just 30 percent. Why the disparity? We only have theories. Women might also be watching the show more than once (live, and then again via VOD). Or, despite cultural stereotypes about techies being guys, perhaps women are simply more tech-savvy about Girls.  

Girls does not skew particularly young, at least not yet.
The median age of a Girls fan is 43, the same as Veep and just a year younger than GoT. By contrast, Sex and the City had a median age of 38 during its final season (in 2004), while last summer’s True Blood boasted fans whose median age was 39. But there’s a big caveat: This number only takes into account viewers who watch or DVR Girls on HBO’s main channel; anyone who watches on demand or via HBO GO doesn’t count. And perhaps more important, this median age figure doesn’t measure any real-life Hannahs who, without the financial means needed to spend $80 per month on a Cadillac cable plan, may decide to simply download episodes of the show illegally. It’s also worth noting that many successful HBO shows enjoy a significant boost in viewership (and often get younger) as they age and word of mouth builds and series are discovered on DVD and streaming. True Blood, for example, experienced massive growth in both its second and third seasons; GoT was much bigger this year than last.

Still, older women aren’t particularly big fans of Girls.
Remember how we told you 22 percent of the folks who watch the show via linear TV are men over 50? Among women over 50, that number is just 14 percent. Older women aren’t even more likely to watch Girls on demand: Just 15 percent of the show’s VOD audience is made up of older females. Apparently nobody told them about Peter Scolari’s junk making a cameo appearance: They’ve been fantasizing about that since Bosom Buddies!

New York City is not the center of the Girls viewing audience.
Not even close. According to HBO’s analysis of Nielsen’s data, the No. 1 TV market for the show is Providence, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Kansas City comes in second, followed by Cincinnati, Charlotte, and Tampa-St. Petersburg. 

Its audience is as ethnically diverse as other recent HBO series.
Fifteen percent of the audience that watches Girls on HBO’s main channel is African-American, while 10 percent is Latino. That’s pretty much the same as the audience composition for Veep, GoT, and Boardwalk Empire. True Blood and Eastbound & Down, which skew 16 percent African-American and 11 percent Latino, are slightly less white.

Barely any of Girls’ fans watch it when it first airs.
A mere 14 percent of the roughly 4.1 million people who watch Girls each week catch it when new episodes debut Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. Most folks (36 percent) catch up via repeats of the show on HBO later during the same week of its premiere. Another 24 percent record the show on a DVR and watch it within the week it airs, while the aforementioned 21 percent use HBO’s video on demand service. (Math nerd sidebar! If you follow the overnight ratings reported by Vulture and other media outlets, you’ve likely seen reports of Girls drawing anywhere from 800,000 to 1.1 million viewers per week. That number includes live viewing — the aforementioned 14 percent — and anyone who watched the episode on DVR later Sunday evening.)

But HBO GO isn’t really a factor, either.
Despite lots of talk
about folks swapping HBO GO passwords to catch Girls, it turns out viewership via that platform is still pretty tiny: just 5 percent of the aforementioned 4.1 million, or about 200,000. In part, this is because barely 5 million out of HBO’s approximately 29 million subscribers have even bothered to sign up for the service.

A few housekeeping notes: The age and ethnic data above is based only on viewers who watch Girls on HBO proper, not multiplex channels such as HBO2 or HBO On Demand. Gender breakdowns for linear broadcasts include viewers who watch the show live or via DVR on any HBO-branded channel.

More Boys Watch Girls Than Girls