After nine months of secrecy swirling around the new season of Game of Thrones, HBO aired the Season 6 premiere The Red Woman on Sunday night, which resulted in a new ratings record for the hit series. The long-awaited episode drew in a series-best 10.7 million viewers, which includes traditional viewing numbers and data from streaming services such as HBO Go and HBO Now, along with the first two repeat airings on Sunday night. While the show's numbers set record highs for viewership, a closer look at the numbers reveals something much more interesting.
Entertainment Weekly reveals that the 10.7 million viewers who tuned in for The Red Woman do not include anyone who watched the show during HBO's free preview weekend, which let non-subscribers watch the pay cable network for free. Overall viewership was up 9% from last year's premiere (9.8 million viewers) and also surpasses the Season 5 finale as the most-watched episode in series history (10.3 million viewers). However, when you take the streaming data out of the equation, the Season 6 premiere was the first time in series history the show actually dropped from last year's premiere.
There were 7.9 million viewers who tuned in through their traditional cable boxes for the 9 PM Season 6 premiere of The Red Woman on Sunday night, which is down 1% from the Season 5 premiere. When you add in the numbers from the first two repeat airings, which drew in 758,000 and 205,000 viewers respectively, Sunday's premiere was down 4% from last year. Even though this is the first year that traditional viewing has dropped for Game of Thrones, it is still an impressive run, since it's quite rare for a show to build off its on-air premieres every year. Breaking Bad managed to grow its audience significantly every year through its five season run, although it did have quite the modest start.
There is one record that Game of Thrones didn't manage to break, which HBO is certainly most grateful for. The show is still on track to be the most pirated TV show of the year, but unlike last year, the premiere didn't break any torrent records. The network took new precautions this year, by not sending out early episodes to members of the press. Last year, the first four episodes of Season 5 leaked online, just one day before the season premiered on HBO.
Across the pond, Game of Thrones also set a U.K. record with 2.2 million viewers tuning in, the biggest U.K. overnight audience in the show's history. The numbers are even more impressive considering that the show airs at 2 AM local time. One U.K. business, +rehabstudios, made headlines after a LinkedIn post went viral, that revealed the company gave all of its employees a half day the morning after the Game of Thrones premiere, to give them a chance to catch up with the episode without being spoiled. Last season, Game of Thrones eventually averaged more than 20 million viewers per episode, so we'll have to wait and see if Season 6 can surpass that lofty number.