HBO isn’t going to reveal how many subscribers watched its shows anymore — at least, not right away.
The premium network just announced that starting Jan. 1, its press office would no longer distribute next-day ratings for its series. The move follows a similar decision by FX, which earlier this year likewise stopped releasing “live plus same day” ratings, numbers that only account for a episode’s first night of viewership.
“HBO subscribers have available to them an array of entry points to watch our programming – HBO linear feeds, DVR, HBO On Demand and HBO GO –and a single airing is no longer representative of an HBO show’s true audience size,” read the HBO statement. “Today, it is common for final gross-audience figures to grow anywhere from five to ten times viewership after an initial airing. With this in mind, starting in 2015, HBO viewership figures will first be made available by us approximately two weeks after a program’s premiere, compiling [seven days of DVR playback ratings from] Nielsen and preliminary HBO On Demand and HBO GO data.”
For example, Game of Thrones’ fourth season was typically seen by 6.6 million viewers during its Sunday night 9 p.m. debut airings. But the season’s average viewership eventually swelled to 19.1 million viewers per episode once encore episodes, DVR playback, On Demand and streaming viewership was included. Other shows demonstrated even more dramatic gains, with The Leftovers going from 1.6 million to 7.2 million and Girls swelling from 803,000 to 4.7 million.
With this move, it’s not tough to think about Netflix, which has frustrated the media and its more traditional rivals by not releasing any public data on how many viewers stream its original programming.
But unlike Netflix, traditional TV networks still can’t stop daily revelations of how many tuned into an individual telecast. HBO may cease announcing its viewership, but since the data will still be collected by Nielsen and then released to the measurement company’s Hollywood subscribers, the numbers will still leak out — just like they have for FX all year (though in the case of HBO, there will now be a bit of delay since HBO’s shows largely air on Sundays and Nielsen doesn’t typically release Sunday cable figures until Tuesday – unless the data is special ordered).
So ultimately, HBO’s stance may be more symbolic than impactful. Yet this decision still represents another step by TV networks trying to get away from being judged on yesteryear’s ratings model.