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By Joe Flint
A record 17.4 million people tuned in Sunday night for the beginning of the end of HBO's "Game of Thrones," according to Nielsen and the network.
The show, which entered its eighth and final season this week, is the most popular show in HBO's history, topping the mafia drama "The Sopranos."
The figure will likely grow significantly when viewing from digital video recorders and on-demand as well as catch-up viewing on HBO are added in. The last season of "Game of Thrones" averaged 32.8 million viewers across all platforms.
The 17.4 million figure, which is a record for a premiere on the network, includes streaming on the HBO Go and HBO Now platforms. HBO Now, which is the channel's direct-to-consumer brand saw a 97% jump compared with the season seven premiere.
Even a nearly two-year break between fresh episodes wasn't enough to keep fans away. Sunday's premiere was up 8% from the season seven premiere in July 2017, which averaged 16.1 million viewers.
The "Game of Thrones" numbers are impressive in today's fragmented media landscape where viewers have myriad of options. When the long-running sitcom "M*A*S*H" went off the air in 1983 when there were only three major broadcast networks, 105 million people watched. More recent finales of popular shows are more in line with the viewership of "Game of Thrones." The last episode of CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" averaged 32.9 million in 2005.
The 17.4 million viewers for the linear showing is bigger than the majority of entertainment shows on broadcast and commercial cable television, despite the fact that HBO is available in about one-third as many homes. When ABC brought back "Roseanne" last season, its first episode averaged 18 million viewers.
Shows that can command such a large live viewership are usually limited to big sporting events or awards programs. "Game of Thrones" is one of the few remaining so-called water-cooler programs that fans feel a need to watch when the episode airs. Last night's episode also gave a boost to the HBO comedies "Veep" and "Barry."
HBO, a unit of AT&T Inc., is developing potential "Game of Thrones" prequels.
On HBO's linear channel, the episode averaged 11.8 million viewers, a jump of 16% from the season seven premiere. The 11.8 million figure was off 2.5% from the season seven finale, which HBO attributed to the fact that satellite broadcaster Dish Network isn't currently carrying the channel because of a contract dispute.
The finale of "Game of Thrones" is scheduled for May 19.
Write to Joe Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 15, 2019 18:25 ET (22:25 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.