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'True Blood': HBO SVP Explains Why It's Not Sweating the Show's Big Ratings Drop

With multiple opportunities to watch Episode 2 this past week, the network isn't worrying.

Anna Paquin, Nelsan Ellis
John P. Johnson/HBO
Anna Paquin and Nelsan Ellis on "True Blood."

Much has been written about True Blood’s huge fall in ratings this past week. On the surface, it could look pretty bad. Only 2.9 million total viewers tuned in to last Sunday night’s airing compared to the 5.42 million who checked in to the previous week’s Season 4 premiere.

Some entertainment writers have used the ratings drop to criticize the network’s HBO Go promotion, which allowed subscribers the chance to watch Episode 2 as early as the same evening as the premiere episode.

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But, what those writers haven’t taken into account is that HBO doesn’t totally define how well it's doing by ratings alone. Being a pay channel, the network’s criterion for success is really its number of subscribers. Yet, that isn’t the whole story either.

“The numbers were not a surprise at all,” HBO’s corporate affairs SVP, Jeff Cusson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We offered Episode 2 immediately after Episode 1 on multiple platforms including HBO Go and HBO On Demand, as well as our affiliates’ broadband portal as well. So, there were many opportunities before Sunday night's airing on the linear network to have already seen Episode 2.”

The promotion seemed especially gutsy as the episode fell on a holiday weekend, which lowers TV ratings across the board anyway as potential viewers are typically busy celebrating and not watching television. But, once again, Cusson tells us that the network isn’t tied to the same ratings pressure as other networks would be.

“The one thing we know about our subscribers is that they are well aware that they can catch our programming on multiple re-airings, not to mention HBO On Demand and HBO Go,” Cusson explains. “So, given that these are entertainment enthusiasts and actually early adopters of technology, we have very heavy usage on those other platforms, including DVR.”

“So we're not afraid to put something on even though the levels are expected to be much lower on something like a July 3rd,” he continues. “We know that our subscribers will find the program.”

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This is especially the case for True Blood fans, whose thirst for the program is barely served with the one new episode it gets a week. And Cusson tells us that HBO has no fear that this particular group of fans won’t return en masse for the rest of the season.

“The beauty of HBO as a subscription service is we just want you to be able to watch the program however you choose to and whenever you choose to,” he tells us. “So the Sunday night is in most cases usually just the starting point. In this case, we just happened to offer up the other platforms first.”

It’s too early for the network to have exact figures for how many people actually watched Episode 2 on HBO On Demand and DVR. And in many cases, they don’t receive viewership numbers from its affiliates’ broadband portals. Additionally, the network’s data for HBO Go, which has currently been downloaded more than three million times, isn’t specific enough to measure how many people watched the episode during the promotion.

But using last season’s numbers as a guide, about five million viewers tuned in to the Sunday evening airings. After On Demand and DVR viewing were counted, the series averaged about 13 million viewers an episode.

“So no, it doesn't matter to us either way how people watch it,” he adds. “You know I think it's important to note [that] True Blood came back with its highest premiere ever for its original episode and [the company] anticipates the series will be doing great throughout the run.”

Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro

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