The premium cable network broke an overall audience record with 10.7 million people tuning into Game of Thrones’ season six premiere by watching live or on streaming services over the weekend.
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.
Nielsen estimates that 7.944 million watched the 9 p.m. premiere telecast on Sunday, the third-largest linear audience to date for the show — a bit below both its year-ago premiere (7.997 million) and finale (8.112 million). But given that stand-alone streaming service HBO Now broke usage records on Sunday night, it’s a pretty safe bet that overall viewership for “The Red Woman” will set a single-telecast series record.
There are some interesting variables in play with the Season 6 premiere. The episode leaked early on Sunday, but leaks didn’t seem to hurt the Season 5 premiere. This is also the first season of Game of Thrones will pull out ahead of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, on which the series is based, in terms of place in the narrative, though that only seemed to generate more excitement among fans. Judging by Rotten Tomatoes, “The Red Woman” received less positive reviews from critics than any previous Game of Thrones season premiere, though it’s 92 percent positive rating (compared to 97-100 percent for past premieres) is still more than enough for it to be “certified fresh.”
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.