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‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 premiere draws 17.4 million viewers to HBO

This photo released by HBO shows Kit Harington as Jon Snow, left, and Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targ
Kit Harington as Jon Snow and Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in a scene from “Game of Thrones,” whose eighth and final season premiered Sunday.
(HBO)

The “Game of Thrones” Season 8 premiere was watched by 17.4 million viewers Sunday, a new season-premiere high for HBO’s wildly popular series.

Nielsen data showed that the program — the first of the series’ final six episodes — was seen by 11.8 million viewers who watched on the premium cable network in its 9 p.m. time period and on DVRs. And according to HBO, 5.6 million watched on streaming platforms HBO Go and HBO Now.

The total tops the 16.1 million viewers who watched the Season 7 premiere on July 16, 2017.

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FULL COVERAGE: The final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ »

HBO expects the total audience for Sunday’s episode to grow as more people tune in to on-demand and repeat airings. The seventh season of “Game of Thrones” averaged 32.7 million viewers when all HBO platforms were counted.

The drama about the warring factions in the fictional land of Westeros, based on George R.R. Martin’s bestselling books, led millions of viewers to sign up for HBO’s young streaming service.

The effect was apparent Sunday: The number of viewers who streamed “Game of Thrones” was up 97% from the number who streamed the Season 7 opener nearly two years ago.

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HBO’s streaming services launched in 2015 and have about 7 million subscribers.

“Game of Thrones” has been a ratings juggernaut for HBO and its departure comes at critical time for the network. HBO has a new owner and faces growing competition from Netflix and other rivals.

In another big television event Sunday, the 2019 Masters saw a drop in ratings, despite Tiger Woods’ stunning comeback victory.

Ratings for the CBS telecast of Woods’ final round Sunday were hurt by its early-morning start time.

Coverage at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., averaged a 7.7 rating in the 56 cities measured by Nielsen.

The rating was down 11% from last year’s final round after predicted rain for the afternoon pushed Sunday’s competition to early-morning tee times. CBS coverage began at 9 a.m. Eastern time and ran until 3 p.m.

The final-round Masters coverage typically begins at 1 p.m. Eastern and winds up sometime after 7 p.m., when more people are available to watch.

In Los Angeles, where coverage began at 6 a.m. Pacific, the Masters averaged a 5.4 rating, the fourth-lowest among the overnight markets.

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Nonetheless, the rating was strong for a golf telecast with such an early start. The rating topped all morning golf coverage going back more than three decades.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio


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