There are two ways to look at the ratings for the season finale of HBO's "Girls."
The old way would be to see that 632,000 people tuned in on Sunday night at 9 p.m. to watch "Girls," which is a decline of almost 40% from last season.
But that won't really tell you how many people ultimately saw the show.
For a more accurate reading, one has to include the two other times HBO ran "Girls" on Sunday night. Do that, and the number grows to 1.1 million.
But even that won't give you a real sense of the audience for "Girls" because numbers from HBO On Demand and HBO Go are not factored in. Nor are numbers from people (like me) who recorded "Girls" on their digital video recorder and then watched the show later.
Throw all those numbers in and the episode ends up averaging about 4.6 million viewers, which is on par with its first season.
None of this is to suggest that "Girls" is as popular as the media coverage of it suggests. But it is also shortsighted to just look at one number to determine how it performed. Consumers have lots of options when it comes to watching shows these days, and more and more of them are choosing to watch on their schedule, not the TV networks'.
Since HBO is a pay service with no advertising, it doesn't really care when you watch a show. It is getting paid either way.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.