Almost 200,000 Britons stayed up until 2am on Monday to watch the return of Game of Thrones, according to official overnight viewing figures, which may explain why some appeared so tired at work this week.
New episodes of the programme are shown simultaneously on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK. While US viewers on the east coast get to enjoy the show at a peak 9pm Sunday night slot, the time difference between the two countries means obsessive British fans have to watch the premiere in the middle of the night.
But despite warnings from the Daily Star, which boldly used Monday’s newspaper front page to declare “millions of Britons will call in sick” after staying up late to watch the programme, it seems only a relatively small number of obsessives decided to forgo sleep in order to watch the stars of the show return to Winterfell.
Instead, most viewers in the UK chose to wait and view the programme in daytime hours. Ratings for the initial broadcast rose to 2.7 million when time shifted viewing was taken into account, while a further 700,000 people tuned into the Monday 9pm evening repeat, giving a total combined UK audience of at least 3.4 million for Sky Atlantic, according to Barb (Broadcasters Audience Research Board) figures provided by overnights.tv.
This makes it the biggest ever UK audience for a non-sport programme on Sky, according to the broadcaster.
Many more viewers are expected to watch the episode on catchup in the coming days, while the figures do not take into account individuals who watch Game of Thrones via Sky’s Now TV service, which can be bought by people without a full Sky package.
The programme has been an enormous hit for Now TV, helping to drive subscribers to the streaming service, which is currently lagging far behind Netflix and Amazon Prime in the British market. It is in third place in the UK with about 1.6 million households subscribing, compared with more than 10m for Netflix.
Game of Thrones was also a major ratings success in the US, where HBO said it was watched by a live audience of 17.4 million people on TV and online. They enjoyed a better experience than viewers in China, who complained that six minutes of sex and violence were cut to please the country’s film censors.