HBO's "The Pacific" drew just 3.1 million viewers Sunday, a surprisingly small audience given the massive marketing the network put behind the project -- and far fewer than the tune-in for night one of "Band of Brothers" in 2001.
While the average audience for "Pacific" was up 22 percent from HBO's last big mini effort -- "John Adams," which drew 2.5 million -- it's a much smaller number than "Band." That project opened to a blockbuster (for HBO) 10 million viewers back in September 2001 (just before the 9/11 attacks).
In fairness, Nielsen measured pay cable numbers differently a decade ago. That 10 million figure includes all HBO viewership at the time, including multiplex services such as HBO2; the 3.1 million is just HBO.
I's hard to imagine, however, that the 2001 10 million figure for "BOB" was dramatically inflated by folks watching HBO's various muliplex services at the time.
"Pacific" tune-in also doesn't compare favorably next to some of HBO's big series guns currently on the air. Red-hot "True Blood" averaged over 5 million viewers in its final weeks last September. And "Entourage" premiered its latest season last summer with 3.4 million viewers.
Still, it's important to keep in mind that overall viewership for "Pacific" will likely rise sharply when other means are viewership are factored in over the coming days.
Already, an 11 p.m. replay of part one brought the cume number for the episode to 4 million viewers. Still to come: Viewers who watch via HBO On Demand (not available in 2001, by the way) and via DVRs (also not around in a meaningful way back in the day). HBO has even put night one of "Pacific" online, so that's a few hundred thousand folks, too.
Finally, HBO won't be recouping its massive investment in "The Pacific" via its on-air showings. That will come via DVD sales of the project, as well as international revenues. ("BOB" remains a huge DVD sales earner).
Bottom line: Sunday night was just the opening battle in what will likely be a long (and probably successful) campaign to monetize "The Pacific."