The numbers are in: Here’s how popular House of the Dragon really is

The numbers are in: Here’s how popular House of the Dragon really is

August 29, 2022

A total of 1.25 million Australians – roughly one in 20 people in the country – have watched the first episode of House of the Dragon, the long-awaited Game of Thrones prequel, since it premiered on Foxtel and Binge last Monday.

While it’s not uncommon to draw this many viewers for popular free-to-air TV shows like Married at First Sight and The Block, the figure is particularly impressive for a service audiences have to pay to access. According to Foxtel, House of the Dragon is the biggest premiere of any show in the history of both the broadcaster and its related streaming service.

Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen in a scene from House of the Dragon.Credit:HBO Max

A similar milestone has been hit in the US too, with the show attracting record numbers on cable and streaming.

With almost 10 million viewers across HBO and HBO Go last Monday, House of the Dragon became the most popular premiere in the prestigious channel’s history. Over the course of the week this figure has grown to 20 million, and the show has been promptly greenlit for its second season.

“We knew House of the Dragon was going to be popular but we have been blown away by the response to the opening episode,” said Binge executive director Alison Hurbert-Burns, speaking about the Australian viewership.

“We are so thrilled that the series has reignited Game of Thrones fans, and brought in a new audience as viewers tune in to see what all the hype is about.”

But does that mean the show is proving more successful than the original series? Is it recapturing the magic of Game of Thrones at its height? Not quite.

In 2019, the finale of Game of Thrones attracted an overnight Australian audience of 1.54 million – around 300,000 more than the number who watched House of the Dragon over the course of a week. (Foxtel declined to supply the overnight audience figure for last Monday’s premiere, though a representative did say that historic comparisons can’t be exact as viewer figures before 2020 don’t include Binge).

That final episode also drew 19.3 million overnight viewers in the US, meaning roughly one in two people who watched the end of Game of Thrones on HBO didn’t bother checking out the new show upon its premiere.

Ten million US viewers in one night is a huge achievement, of course. But a 50 per cent viewer retention rate is less impressive – especially after the new series dropped a reported $100 million-plus in marketing.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in battle during the final season of Game of Thrones.Credit:Helen Sloan/HBO

It’s obviously not a perfect comparison to look at the finale of one of the most popular TV shows in history and its subsequent prequel, a relative unknown quantity, but they are part of the same franchise and it can still offer some useful indication of ongoing interest from the shared fan base, especially after so many viewers were let down by the way the original show ended.

The numbers tell a similar story beyond just the finale. The premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones, for instance, drew 1.29 million overnight viewers in Australia – a greater figure than House of the Dragon clocked over the course of a week.

When asked about the differences in House of the Dragon’s viewership compared to that of the original show, a Foxtel Group spokesperson said that “as we saw with Game of Thrones, more and more people will come in to watch as the series progresses”.

“We are thrilled to see House of the Dragon premiere to an overwhelmingly positive response from fans around the country.”

It’s an incredibly tall order to recreate the success of a show like Game of Thrones. And, as The Age and Sydney Morning Herald culture news editor Osman Faruqi has pointed out, that’s largely due to the changed nature of the TV industry. Premiering in 2011, the original series exploded in a pre-streaming era when people had far fewer entertainment options, and “water cooler TV” was a much more common phenomenon.

Can a show like House of the Dragon really recapture the excitement and hype from when we were all watching the one great thing?

It has a better chance than most – but it will all hinge on whether those jaded Game of Thrones fans are paying attention to the “overwhelmingly positive response”, renewing their subscriptions and reassembling their old watch parties.

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