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Inside the Mountain-Size ‘Game of Thrones’ Ratings Growth From Seasons 1-7

Viewership either tripled or quadrupled, depending on whether you go by HBO’s numbers or Nielsen’s

“Game of Thrones” is set to breathe fire — er, life — back into HBO’s lineup this Sunday, when the pay-TV provider will be happy to have the epic drama’s epic Nielsen numbers for its epic eighth and final season premiere.

But just how high have the ratings become for HBO’s highest-rated program? Well, per the network’s own data, the small-screen adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s book series more than tripled its viewership averages from Season 1 to Season 7, where we last left off. And per Nielsen’s numbers, it quadrupled.

While both spikes rival the size of the show’s The Mountain as “GoT’s” single-biggest year-over-year jump in terms of percentages, here’s why the pay-TV channel’s numbers are different from the data and measurement company’s stats.

First, HBO includes streams from its HBO Go and HBO Now services, the latter of which launched in April 2015 to coincide with “Game of Thrones” Season 5, which really solidified the channel’s spot atop premium-cable’s Iron Throne. Second, the provider’s averages are calculated based on all viewing up until 30 days after a season ends. That’s not how Nielsen does it.

According to HBO’s own count — so yes, that month-after-finale version — U.S. viewership per season increased 3.5 times from season 1 to season 7:
Season 1: 9.3 million
Season 2: 11.6 million
Season 3: 14.4 million
Season 4: 19.1 million
Season 5: 20.2 million
Season 6: 25.7 million
Season 7: 32.8 million

Below is Nielsen’s version, which counts 7 days of delayed viewing per episode. This is a more typical way of looking at things, but it does not count HBO’s significant streaming additions. (But still represents a four-fold increase in viewership last season over the first.)

Season 1:  3.3 million
Season 2:  4.9 million
Season 3:  6.4 million
Season 4:  9.0 million
Season 5:  9.5 million
Season 6:  10.6 million
Season 7:  13.7 million

We should note here that HBO penetrates about one-third of U.S. homes and the premium-cable channel was dropped by Dish at the end of last year. So putting up these kind of numbers (both HBO’s versions and Nielsen’s) for a show that isn’t as accessible as those on broadcast and basic cable is very impressive.

The Season 7 finale currently claims the show’s record-high for one night, with 12.1 million “live” linear viewers at 9 p.m. That tally grows to 16.9 million when counting Go/Now and same-night reruns. We’d bet all the money in the Iron Bank of Braavos that record is sure to be broken Sunday night.

“Game of Thrones” Season 8 premieres Sunday at 9/8c on HBO.