tv ratings

A Lotta People Watched House of the Dragon

Ah, look at the happy couple. What could go wrong? Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

HBO’s House of the Dragon is off to a stellar start in the ratings: 10 million viewers across all of the network’s platforms streamed Sunday’s premiere of the first Game of Thrones spinoff series. That’s easily the largest audience for a series in the HBO Max era, and according to the network, it’s the best opening night for any HBO original series ever, though changes in how ratings are tabulated make comparisons tough. But whatever the specifics, the big takeaway seems to be that Dragon took flight right out of the gate and is shaping up to be a hit.

While HBO declined to release fast national Nielsen data for Sunday’s linear telecasts of HOTD, the 10 million all-in, multiplatform number easily outdrew recent HBO series launches and returning-series premieres. Succession, for example, opened with 1.4 million viewers across platforms, and red-hot Euphoria began its second season earlier this year with 2.2 million (though that number climbed to over 13 million viewers within a month). Going back to the pre-streaming era, HOTD easily surpassed the series premiere ratings for GoT, which opened to a solid but not spectacular 4.2 million viewers in April 2011. Based on those numbers, HBO renewed GoT for a second season the same day it released the premiere ratings. The network hasn’t yet announced a renewal for HOTD, though these numbers suggest that’s likely a formality.

Meanwhile, the 10 million viewer figure released today is expected to grow exponentially over the next few weeks as more people catch up with the show or do their own mini-binges. HBO noted that premiere-night numbers typically represent just 20 to 40 percent of a show’s overall audience during the course of a season, suggesting the HOTD premiere will eventually be seen by well over 20 million viewers in the U.S.

To the surprise of nobody in the TV industry, HOTD finished well behind the GoT series finale, which premiered with 19.3 million multi-platform viewers in 2019 (including a record-setting 13.6 million live, linear viewers on HBO cable) before climbing to over 44 million viewers within a month. But that was a once-a-decade TV event representing the culmination of eight seasons of storytelling, and there was zero expectation at HBO of topping that record — or even coming close.

It’s tough to make precise ratings comparisons between the early days of GoT and HOTD because of how dramatically the television landscape has changed since the original series debuted in 2011. HBO has gone from a stand-alone premium cable network available in about 28 million U.S. homes (and just beginning to explore the idea of letting consumers watch via the internet) to a service that now anchors the direct-to-consumer HBO Max and boasts around 49 million domestic customers (including millions who still access it via cable and satellite). Add in population growth — there are about 20 million more people living in the U.S. today versus 2011 — and the pool of potential viewers for HOTD is much bigger than it was for GoT.

Comparisons also get wonky when you try to stack up GoT’s final season in 2019 and HOTD. As noted, there’s the not insignificant fact that the former represented the long-awaited conclusion to an epic drama while the latter is an entirely new chapter in the GoT universe that features no cast members from the original (though there are a lot more dragons this time). Yet even though GoT ended just three years ago, the TV universe has once again undergone a significant evolution. Not only is HBO Max now a thing, but so are Disney+, Apple TV+, Peacock, and Paramount+. There’s a lot more streaming competition, so it’s harder to aggregate big audiences on a single night — making it all the more impressive that House of the Dragon could accumulate 10 million viewers in just a few hours.

A Lotta People Watched the Dragon Show