'Game of Thrones' Return Boosts Subscriptions 40 Percent at Australian Streamer Foxtel Now

Helen Sloan/HBO
'Game of Thrones'

The surge in subscriptions caused the service to crash, but the season 7 premiere of HBO's hit show nonetheless broke ratings records.

Game Of Thrones’ season 7 premiere broke pay-TV rating records in Australia when it aired Monday and caused a massive uptick in signings to pay TV company Foxtel’s streaming service, executives said Tuesday.

But it was a double-edged Lannister-style sword for Foxtel, with the unprecedented demand for the show from streaming customers causing the system to crash Monday night. The technical glitches left an unspecified but vocal number of viewers unable to log on and watch the highly anticipated premiere. The snafu spawned the social media hashtag #FoxtelFail, with many threatening to return to pirating the series.

Overall 820,000 viewers on Foxtel’s cable, satellite and streaming platforms watched the first episode of season 7 on Monday. That was a 16 percent rise over the season 6 premiere, achieving the highest ratings ever for a series in the history of subscription television in Australia.

The pay-TV service, owned jointly by News Corp and telco Telstra Corp, said it had a huge surge in streaming subscriptions, increasing its subscribers by 40 percent in the 48 hours before the premiere. Foxtel recently relaunched its streaming service, Foxtel Now, and is providing a $15 a month subscription to its drama pack.

Brian Walsh, Foxtel’s executive director of television, said of the record ratings, “The audience of 820,000 who tuned in to episode 1 is unprecedented for Foxtel, and we are ecstatic with the result. I fully expect this number to tilt at 1.5 million by the week’s end once more customers have viewed the episode through our catch-up On Demand service and encore screenings.”

By contrast, the top rated program in Australian TV Monday night was new hit series Australian Ninja Warrior, which had an audience of 1.5 million viewers across the five capital cities.

However, the paynet spent most of Tuesday apologizing to subscribers for its technical failures, which it said mirrored the experience of streaming customers in the U.S., Latin America and India.

“As has been reported, HBO in the U.S., its affiliate in Latin America, and Foxtel all experienced some technical glitches with our respective streaming products, and we reiterate our disappointment for those customers impacted by the outage. Foxtel engineers are working to resolve the issue to ensure smooth transmission for the remainder of the series,” Walsh said.

Foxtel explained the glitch: “The combination of new Foxtel Now customers signing up and existing customers upgrading to get the Drama Pack...put unprecedented pressure on our technical operations. Foxtel’s Identity Management System...which usually handles around 5,000 processes a day, was hit with 70,000 transactions in just a few hours.”

“We had anticipated heavy usage for last night’s premiere; however, the traffic that eventuated far exceeded expectations. Foxtel’s engineers are examining what steps can be taken to mitigate any recurrence. Foxtel unreservedly apologizes to customers who were affected by this issue,” the company said in one of three statements issued over 18 hours.

It said the system is now working properly.

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