“Game of Thrones” pulls in some damn strong TV ratings, but its linear Nielsen numbers can’t hold a dragon-lit candle to TV’s top shows, including “The Walking Dead.”
The huge AMC zombie hit actually slightly more than doubles the HBO epic by that metric. Looking at all originals and same-week repeats for “Walking Dead’s” recently wrapped Season 6, a total of 16 episodes and 119 telecasts scored an average of 24.8 million linear viewers, per Nielsen’s Live + 7 Day ratings.
For “Game of Thrones,” the entirety of Season 5 and the first four episodes from the current Season 6 — a total of 14 episodes and 130 telecasts — averaged 12.2 million linear viewers, according to the same metric. That brings us reasonably close in both episodes and telecasts, and takes us up to-date for the George R.R. Martin adaptation.
Of course, HBO would argue that digital plays a bigger role for them than for AMC. They’d also point out that HBO has fewer subscribers than AMC reaches. Both are true, though neither eliminates the linear totals, nor would even generously counted digital views swap the ranking order of “Game of Thrones” and “Walking Dead.”
HBO prefers to roll their viewing all up into one number, but that’s an imperfect methodology as well. There, they sum every single entry point into an episode, including “live” viewing, on-demand, DVRs, HBO Go, HBO Now and replays. The pay-TV network tends to cut the counting off 30 days after a season ends, which means Episode 1 gets much more time for late viewing than Episode 10.
Using this methodology, HBO says it averaged 20.2 million all-in viewers per episode last year, and an insider at the premium cable network told TheWrap that this season’s on pace to exceed that. As for AMC, “The Walking Dead” gets about another 2.7 million additional viewers across digital platforms.
Meanwhile, broadcast’s top series, “Sunday Night Football,” averaged 22 million viewers per game this season. That’s a tally of 17 games, and while there’s some light DVR viewing included, NBC does not repeat the games. As very few people would want to watch a sporting event in reruns, the nature of the genre pretty much limits viewership to one specific time slot.
The top scripted series, “Big Bang Theory,” averaged 20.4 million per episode, which, this season, is inclusive of just some on-demand viewing. In other words, while the CBS sitcom grows quite a bit in delayed viewing, the broadcaster hasn’t repeated episodes in 2015-2016.
Below is a comparison between the four big series, in a colorful and easily digestible line-graph form.