Has HBO found its next big hit? Critics and those people paid to count audiences think so after Westworld attracted 3.3 million viewers.
While that might be small compared to network and even some basic cable television programs, for a premium cable channel like HBO, that is absolutely extraordinary.
With an all-star cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden and Jeffrey Wright, HBO spared no expense reportedly shelling out $100 million for the first season alone. In return, Jonathan Nolan – you know, the brother of The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan – delivered, giving HBO its best premiere audience since True Detective in January 2014, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Audience size, however, has a different meaning for non-advertising outlets like HBO compared to, say, the broadcast networks. For a show on NBC or CBS, audience size matters because the more people who tune in, the more the network can charge for advertising (and more profit they can generate). HBO is commercial-free, so even while big turnouts are good for the channel, HBO is paying more attention to the buzz and how it will help grow its paid subscription base over the next few years.
The 3.3 million people most likely created a big sigh of relief in HBO’s front offices, however. The last time the channel laid out that kind of cash, Vinyl premiered with less than 1 million people even realizing it was on, before HBO cut its losses and cancelled it.
This could be just the beginning for Westworld, the show that mixes robots and theme parks first created by Michael Crichton in 1973. HBO shows tend to start small, and then grow audiences over time, thanks to buzz from both media and viewers. Game of Thrones is a prime example of that, premiering with 4.2 million viewers in 2011, and finishing last season with an average of 7.7 million viewers, according to TV Series Finale.
That means J.J. Abrams – who helped turn the Star Trek movie franchise into a billion-dollar juggernaut and then made more than $2 billion on Star Wars: The Force Awakens – has once again turned entertainment into gold. Literally.
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