Nearly 5.1 million viewers tuned into Sunday night's third season premiere of True Blood on Sunday night at 9pm. Along with its 2.9 adults 18-49 rating it is an impressive start and beat my predictions by ~20%. Though not quite record numbers, the 2.9 adults 18-49 rating tied the series high.
Yeah, Yeah, HBO Doesn't Care About Ratings!
It's true. Since HBO doesn't sell advertising, adults 18-49 ratings don't really matter and neither do average viewer numbers. Only happy subscribers, and getting more of them matter to HBO. Alas, this is a website mostly focusing on TV ratings.
Do You Even Watch True Blood?
I (Robert) do! I confess, what got me interested was the pace of DVD sales of the season one DVD. I'm not really into the vampire craze, I mostly got it out of my system by the early 1990s with the first few Anne Rice books. But I had to see what all the fuss was about. The first half of season one didn't do much for me, but I stuck with it and really enjoyed season two. It's too early for me to tell if season three can hold a candle to season two, but Jason Stackhouse cracks me up regardless...
Nearly 10% of Homes Subscribing to HBO Tuned-In Sunday at 9pm
How high can True Blood go? Remember the numbers generally tossed around are the numbers for the initial 9pm telecasts on Sunday nights. So when we ask how high can it go, what we're really asking is how many people will watch that telecast live or on their DVRs by 3am Monday morning. Can it substantially grow the number of people who watch the initial telecast instead of watching it On Demand, after 3am Monday on their DVRs or one of the encores on HBO?
HBO is only available in about 32 million out of the nearly 115 million homes in U.S. with televisions that Nielsen estimates. While 5.097 million watched, many homes had more than one person watching. According to Nielsen there were 3.071 million homes tuned in for that 9pm Sunday telecast, or nearly 10% of all HBO subscribers. That's a pretty good.
DVD Sales For Season Two, Down From Season One, But Still Exceptional
There's no way to look at the numbers from HBO's perspective and not like them. The second season DVD (not even counting Blu-ray) is selling extremely well after two weeks, though not quite as briskly as season one. Some will argue that's because a whole bunch of people who bought the season one DVD signed up for HBO to watch season two so they didn't bother buying the season two DVD. If so, that's a trade HBO will happily make, but there's not really any data to either support or refute such claims.
It was the top TV show DVD seller of the year by far last year. The season one True Blood DVDs sold well for weeks. In fact, only about 40% of its total sales were generated in the first two weeks. That's a trend that's atypical for TV shows and it remains to be seen whether season two will trend similarly to season one. Even if it doesn't, it will still be among the top TV show DVD sellers. After only two weeks of release it trails only Glee Volume 1: Road to Sectionals.
Viewing Isn't Down, But How Much Higher Can It Go?
When True Blood premiered on HBO back on September 7, 2008, it averaged 1.44 million viewers and a 0.7 rating with adults 18-49. The season one finale averaged 2.4 million viewers and a 1.3 rating with adults 18-49 on November 13, 2008.
The season two premiere averaged 3.7 million viewers and a 2.0 rating with adults 18-49 and finished with 5.11 million viewers and a 2.9 rating.
While it's true that True Blood typically gathers ratings strength over the course of its season, setting new highs along the way, it was also the case that season two's premiere grew from season one's finale. That didn't happen between the season two finale and the season three premiere which performed nearly identically.
I don't necessarily think viewing has plateaued and I won't be at all surprised if it sets new series highs. But I'll definitely be a bit surprised if season 3 sees the same growth from beginning to end that season two saw -- about 40% depending on how you want to look at it. Similar growth to season two would get it up to 7 million viewers and a 4.2 rating with adults 18-49 by season's end.
But whatever I predict (or you predict) doesn't really matter. 7 million and a 4+ rating with adults 18-49. 6 million and a 3.5 rating for the 18-49 crowd, or even 5 million in a 2.9 -- HBO will be pleased regardless. In fact, even if it goes down a bit, the True Blood PR team will just pummel the TV media with a rolled up number including DVR, On Demand and additional airings and you will be amazed all over again!
The truth is, it can drop about 20% and still be the highest rated scripted show for adults 18-49 on cable. Even if it is only available in about 28 percent of the homes in the U.S.