How Game of Thrones stays in the game

All of us have probably had a show we’ve loved that was cancelled because the ratings simply weren’t high enough.

You may recall many years back when the female cop drama Cagey and Lacey was brought back from cancellation by fans writing the network, and fans also kept The Twilight Zone on the air for five years, pleading with CBS not to cancel it.

Now Game of Thrones is certainly not in any danger of being cancelled, it’s probably hotter than ever right now as it kicks off the second season, and the third season’s already gotten the green light.

But as a report in Slate asks, “How does HBO make money on expensive shows on 3 million people watch?”


Game of Thrones is of course critically acclaimed. The series has won a bunch of Emmy’s, and the critics love it, not to mention the show is also beloved by the geek elite. 

But the ratings aren’t considered stellar in the grand scheme of thing, so as Slate writer June Thomas asks, “How does a niche program like Game of Thrones – beloved by fans, but watched by a tiny fraction of the viewing public make money?”


The answer, Thomas explains, is, “For the premium networks, what matters is that viewers are passionate enough to keep their subscriptions active. That’s why Showtime renewed House of Lies, which great from 800,000 on Sunday to 4.4 million for the week… the more a show like Game of Thrones dominates the cultural conversation, the more people will sign up for HBO to watch it.”


Thomas also points out that HBO hopes its shows will receive stellar critical marks, along with a lot of people tuning in and multiple awards. 

Still, Game of Thrones would undoubtedly be a success even if it only managed to clinch one of those three goals, which the show has clearly already done. HBO also makes big bucks from the Game of Thrones DVDs, with the first season selling 350,000 copies during the first week.