Friday, August 9, 2013

The War of 18-49, Breaking Bad


Scheduling history: Every Breaking Bad episode in the first 4.5 seasons aired on Sunday at 10:00, though that changed for the final run in summer 2013; it moved to 9:00 to launch ill-fated newbie Low Winter Sun.

See (who saw) how it all began: Usually I avoid doing these posts for older cable shows since I have very spotty data prior to about 2009. But I'm making an exception for this show. Here's what we know about the show's early days: it started with 1.4 million viewers and a 0.6 demo on 1/20/08 and held that 0.6 in the show's second week. But it settled at a much lower level down the stretch of season one, hitting 0.4 on at least two occasions. The only 18-49 data point I have from season two is the premiere's then-series high 0.7 on 3/8/09, but it's probably a pretty safe bet that it ended up averaging somewhere between the 0.5ish of season one and the 0.65 of season three. (Its total viewer average in season two was 1.3 million, up from the 1.2 million of season one.)

The best of times: Buzz, awards and online streaming have caused a Breaking Bad explosion in the show's final two season. It broke a one for the first time with a 1.1 in the season four premiere, then returned to a 1.0 for that season's finale. Then came the eight-episode summer 2012 run, in which every single episode did at least that previous high 1.1. That run began with a 1.5 on 7/15/12 which remained the series high through summer 2012. And finally, there was the almost incomprehensible final run in summer 2013, which premiered with nearly double the ratings of any previous episode (2.9) and became an even bigger cultural phenomenon in its final weeks. The last three episodes were all series highs, culminating with the 5.3 finale on premiere Sunday for the broadcast networks.

The worst of times: Season one was Breaking Bad at its weakest. My data says the lowest ratings were a 0.4 demo on 2/10/08 and 2/17/08, but I'm missing another point that may well have been the ratings low: the series' third episode on 2/3/08, which actually had to air against the Super Bowl.

Then vs. now: In this space, there used to be a rant about how the media unfairly judged Breaking Bad because it paled in comparison to its network teammate The Walking Dead. It was still a "hit" compared to almost all other cable dramas, but the "critically-acclaimed show that nobody watches" narrative got lazily trotted out because it fell so far behind that one enormous anomaly of a show. While that comparison stayed true in 2013, let's hope that there was enough Nielsen heat here that the Breaking Bad story can be told correctly now. This will likely go down as the textbook example of what can happen when a massively-acclaimed yet marginally-rated serialized show gets a chance to stick around. It won't always or even often happen (it hasn't really happened with fellow AMC drama Mad Men), but Breaking Bad may help create more opportunities.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
12007-08Sunday 10:

4Summer 20110.81+24%0.71.1

5ASummer 20121.28+58%1.11.5

5BSummer 2013Sunday 9:003.05+139%2.25.3

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
12007-08 15 12 18 18 n/a
22008-09 23 23 23 23 23
32009-10 23 18 32 32 25
4Summer 2011 32 28 43 43 39
5ASummer 2012 54 47 64 64 56
5BSummer 2013 145 103 250 136 250

For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.


Spot said...

I watched all four full seasons and part one of season five on DVD in the past year. Breaking Bad is possibly one of my all time favorite dramas. Anyway, I expect a new series high for the debut tomorrow night (possibly a 1.8??) with all the buzz and new viewers (like myself) that it picked up in the past year.

Amazing how quickly the show picked up viewers though!

Spot said...

I'm so glad to see the show end in a beastly way, the average for season 5B was a stunning 3.06 and the series finale manage to go above 5.0. The show grow more than 600% between season 1 and season 5B.

Spot said...


Spot said...

I would love to see a War of 18-49 update, especially since it had a crazy jump in ratings for the final season. At least move it to one of the no longer running shows category.

Spot said...

So is this going to be the formula for cable dramas from now on? Hold on to them until the audience realizes how good it is, then let them binge watch to catch up?

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