Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The War of 18-49, The Walking Dead


Scheduling history: The Walking Dead's short first season aired on Sundays at 10/9c. It was quickly evident this show was enough of a force that it should be leading into another primetime program, so it moved to 9/8c for season two and has been there ever since.

See (who saw) how it all began: It's easy to forget now that the series premiere ratings for The Walking Dead were themselves quite an amazing accomplishment, even at a fraction of what would be achieved in future seasons. It launched on Halloween in 2010 with 5.345 million viewers and a 2.7 demo rating, which already made it one of the very biggest series on cable. It dropped only a bit to a 2.5 rating in week two, stayed roughly steady for a couple weeks, then perked up to new highs (2.8 and 3.0) in each of season one's last two episodes.

The best of times: Had I written this post in season one, this space would keep getting rewritten with every new Walking Dead season. The ratings just keep going up, to the point that it now blows away all other entertainment series on broadcast or cable. The series high is an 8.7 demo, achieved for the season five fall premiere on 10/12/14. Broadcast TV produced its biggest new drama hit in at least a decade with Empire, and it still only barely averaged two thirds of what The Walking Dead did! But the show's fall 2016 return (8.35) was almost inarguably even more impressive; in historical-adjusted numbers, it topped even the Friends finale, which has been the standard bearer for these things.

The worst of times: The Walking Dead quickly left its early ratings in the dust; nothing in any subsequent season has even gotten down to the high point of season one or two. The series low is a 2.4 demo, set on 11/21/10, week four of the six-episode first season.

Then vs. now: If American Idol was the great TV ratings anomaly of the aughts, The Walking Dead should go down as the great TV ratings anomaly of this decade. It's had the same kind of seasonal uplifting of its network that Idol did; AMC almost always finishes in the top three basic cable networks in weeks when Dead is on, sometimes #1, and often drops into the 20's when it's off. Quantifying exactly how big an anomaly is tough. Its story is all the more impressive because it happened on basic cable, but looking at A18-49+ numbers may actually inflate it a bit at this point since its numbers (plus lead-out aftershow Talking Dead) don't get counted in the 'league average.' Even if we did that, though, it's still be the biggest entertainment series of the last decade-plus after  historical adjustments: even bigger than Idol in its prime!

On a yearly basis, The Walking Dead shattered some significant ceiling. In season one, it pulled ratings the broadcasters would be happy to have (which was relatively new for basic cable). In season two, it just about matched NCIS for top drama on all TV. Season three was the show's most impressive bump, surging from amazing cable story to amazing-for-anyone, and it only widened the gap vs. the entertainment field in season four.  There's really only one thing left for Dead to do, and that's regularly beat the top non-entertainment series (NBC's Sunday Night Football) on a same-day basis. The Walking Dead has beaten some of the weaker games head-to-head in the last few seasons. Though SNF still reigned with its 7.65 average in 2014-15, it was not by much. Does Dead have enough juice left to pull it off in the future? It looks like it may have missed the boat, as SNF has pulled further ahead in the last two years as Dead's declines have accelerated.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

1Fall 2010Sunday 10:002.652.43.0detail
2Fall 2011Sunday 9:003.41+29%3.13.8detail
Winter 20123.903.54.7
3Fall 20125.32+56%4.95.8detail
Winter 20135.78+48%5.46.4
4Fall 20136.62+24%5.78.2detail
Winter 20146.92+20%6.38.2
5Fall 20147.46+13%7.08.7detailA
Winter 20157.31+6%6.28.2
6Fall 20156.72-10%6.27.4detailA-
Winter 20166.33-13%5.86.9
7Fall 20165.62-16%4.98.4detailB+
Winter 20175.09-20%4.75.7
8Fall 20173.76-33%3.35.0detail
Winter 20183.03-40%2.63.6
9Fall 20182.05-46%1.82.5detail
Winter 20191.72-43%1.52.0

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

1Fall 201010494118106118
2Fall 2011144131161161148
Winter 2012165146198178198
3Fall 2012253233274274258
Winter 2013274257304290304
4Fall 2013351300435435323
Winter 2014367335433433425
5Fall 2014443413514514451
Winter 2015435370485475485
6Fall 2015462424510510482
Winter 2016434400475464475
7Fall 2016459400682682416
Winter 2017416385467467442
8Fall 2017344299459459307
Winter Spring 2018277240332332311
9Fall 2018216189262262206
Winter 2019181156210210196


The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.


Spot said...

If the Walking Dead was included, how would it affect the league average?

Spot said...

That Masterchef number is identical to the Masterchef Jr. finale in viewership and down a tick in the demo. Airing at 8 on Memorial Day should be a pretty comparable situation to airing on Fridays at 8 regularly. Repeats last summer were doing low one's!!

Spot said...

It just gets worse for FOX. Wow.

Spot said...

I do find it peculiar that the networks program Memorial Day like a typical summer Monday. The Bachelorette I get (why launch during the last week of May sweeps then be off the sked for a week?), and ABC wisely decided to pencil in Mistresses' debut for next Monday, but Fox should have waited a week to launch MasterChef and have done a 24: LAD recap or something.

Spot said...

Fox gets knocked for stuff like Bones and Fringe but they treat their scripted shows way better than their unscripted ones (excluding Idol ofc). Take Kitchen Nightmares. It was constantly in the range of 1.7-2.0 (almost Shark Tank level!) on Fridays in '11 to '12. Then in fall 2012, they jerk around its premiere twice and are surprised when it premieres at 0.9. It's been schedule spackle ever since, when it could have made a perfectly fine Friday anchor. Hotel Hell is another example. It was the best new show of the summer in 2012, was renewed, and then totally disappeared.
tl;dr: Fox treats Gordon Ramasy shows like ABC treats comedies.

Spot said...

It would take it from 1.88 to 1.93. That would make its Plus numbers like 8 points lower apiece.

Spot said...

All of the networks are having a tough time recently. I was expecting MasterChef to break that trend, but apparently not. I don't think anything else to air this summer is going to reverse this spiral.

Spot said...

Like ABC treats comedies not named Modern Family or the Middle

Spot said...

Idol's biggest number on A18-49+ is a 316 for the tuesday episodes in 2005-06. Which makes Walking Dead even more impressive.

By the way, do you think it has already peaked or does it still have room to grow?

Spot said...

Well, casuals have really left FOX.

Next season the World Series and the NFC Championship (which is not on primetime) are the only massive events where they have room to promote shows.

Spot said...

Well, of course. Not arguing that.

Spot said...

Thanks so much for posting this! Honestly, the Walking Dead is far from a horror story as far as its ratings are concerned. Love the programme, so I'm glad it's doing so well. I really hope it never plummets and can keep achieving new highs or at least staying even. I'm so worried that the day will come when ratings are going to decline.

Spot said...

How is AMC not using this show to launch more shows? I know they did it with Hell in Wheels (which premiered to a 1.9), so why don't they premiere more shows on an after TWD spot? Even if it's just for premiere sample and then get back to Talking Dead

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