Congratulations, with myriad caveats, to “Game of Thrones” for becoming the most popular series in HBO's history, at least in some ways of measuring these things.
HBO proudly announced on Thursday (June 5) that the current fourth season of “Game of Thrones” is averaging a gross audience of 18.4 million viewers. That surpasses the 2002 season of “The Sopranos,” which had an average gross audience of 18.2 million viewers.
No, “gross audience” doesn't refer to the number of audience members grossed out by that thing that happened in this past Sunday's episode.
Average gross audience refers to the whole kit and caboodle of audience viewership, which includes live viewing, +7 DVR viewership, repeat airings across various HBO platforms, OnDemand, HBOGo and just about every platform you could possibly imagine.
“But wait,” I'm sure you're saying, “I don't necessarily remember how many people did or didn't have access to OnDemand back in 2002, much less to DVRs, but I'm 100 percent certain that HBOGo viewership for 'The Sopranos' that season was zero, so aren't these numbers a little skewed an unfair?”
The answer to that question? Absolutely, kinda.
Viewers have more ways of watching HBO than ever before and HBO has more subscribers in 2014 than in 2002 and the overall TV universe is bigger and more diverse in 2014 than in 2002, so there are many advantages that “Game of Thrones” has that “The Sopranos” did not have. If the “Game of Thrones” tally includes every HBOGo play, it presumably also includes shared HBOGo passwords and whatnot, a practice HBO has tacitly and not-so-tacitly acknowledged and encouraged.
So that's a pretty major advantage for “Game of Thrones,” right?
Well, it's not like “The Sopranos” is without advantages. Before 2004, in its not-exactly-infinite-wisdom, Nielsen measured all of the channels within HBO's universe as a single entity. So if “The Sopranos” aired on a Sunday night, you'd get ratings, but they'd also include HBO2, HBO3, HBOCZECH, anything with an HBO in it. So if 7 million people were watching “The Sopranos” and 200,000 people were watching an airing of “House 2: The Second Story,” Nielsen spit out 7.2 million viewers for HBO's ratings and that's what we reported “The Sopranos” did. There were no alternatives.