HBO’s The Last of Us finale attracts 8.2M viewers

The season one finale of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” a TV series adaptation of the video game by the same name, reeled in 8.2 million viewers across linear and streaming, according to Nielsen first-party data.

That’s a healthy climb from the hit premiere of the post-apocalyptic drama, which attracted 4.7 million viewers on January 15. Viewership of the series, which stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in a world overrun by fungal-infected zombies, continued to increase steadily week by week – jumping to an audience of 7.5 million by episode 4.  HBO greenlit a second season of the series, with Ramsey who plays Ellie and Pascal who plays Joel, after just two episodes aired.

Warner Bros. Discovery-owned HBO said the series is now averaging 30.4 million viewers across its first six episodes and approaching 40 million viewers in the U.S. for the first episode. Outside of the U.S., “The Last of Us” is now the most-watched show ever of HBO Max both in Europe and Latin America.  

When episode 5 coincided with Super Bowl weekend, HBO released the Sunday evening show early, making it available that Friday, February 10 on HBO Max streaming and on-demand before its linear debut on February 12.  Across that weekend, the episode brought in 11.6 million viewers in the U.S. from Friday to Sunday.

Although video game adaptations have been done before, there was high anticipation leading up to the premiere of “The Last of Us,” based on the video game by Naughty Dog, and HBO appears not to have disappointed. Before the show debuted, Whip Media found it was tracking well ahead of other video game-based IP in terms of respective follower trends at the same point in time in the lead up to release dates, including “Halo” and “Arcane.” In early January the firm said “The Last of Us” it was the most anticipated new TV series of 2023 amongst all shows with a set release date for the year.

The series, which focuses on relationships beyond the typical gore and horror of a zombie thriller, has garnered acclaim from critics and fans  –  something that has not always happened for video game adaptations  - while also resonating with those who aren’t gamers or had not heard of the video game.

Leaning into existing IP and known franchises is a content tactic several streamers have indicated they are pursuing to attract audiences with built in bases. For the first half of 2022 Ampere Analysis found that 64% of commissioned content for new scripted originals from leading SVOD platforms in the U.S. were based on adaptations, franchises and other forms of pre-existing IP.  

“With such significant budgets available but also at stake, leading global streamers are increasingly turning to pre-existing IP and recognizable franchises and brands to attract and retain subscribers, and reduce the risk associated with commissioning Originals,” Ampere analyst Cyrine Amor stated in November. “Drawing on pre-existing IP capitalises on established and successful content and is more likely to attract subscriber attention and positive reception than new brand content.”

Content is a main way that streaming services are also differentiating, something recent survey data from Hub Entertainment shows consumers struggle with – as SVOD name recognition and awareness is high among leading services, but consumers have a tough time zeroing in on what makes them distinct from each other. According to the survey, 41% of viewers said they signed up for a particular service to watch a specific show, up from 36% in 2022. And many are drawn to existing franchises and IP, with 40% saying they would most likely start watching Marvel out of franchise-based shows (procedural crime dramas also topped the list such as “Law and Order” (39%) and “CSI” (33%).

As for Warner Bros. Discovery, it’s preparing to launch a service that combines HBO Max content with Discovery+ under one umbrella of a yet-to-be-named streaming platform (though “Max” has been pegged as the front-runner).