AMC has ambitious plans to further expand The Walking Dead into a multi-media franchise with several spinoffs and companion products. But, as we’ve previously explored, the brand may not be able to support such lofty goals.
Sunday night’s episode drew a 2.9 rating in the advertiser-friendly 18 to 49 demographic and just 6.8 million total live viewers, according to Nielsen data per Variety. This comes after the midseason premiere posted the show’s weakest return numbers since season two (8.3 million viewers, 3.6 rating).
Is it time to worry?
That 2.9 rating in the key demo is The Walking Dead‘s worst since season one way back in 2010. That was the last time the show, which routinely leads all of television in the crucial 18 to 49 target audience, drew less than a 3.0 rating. The last time the series garnered fewer than seven million live viewers was back in season two with “Better Angels,” which averaged 6.9 million.
Sunday night’s episode marked a 20 percent dip in both total live viewers and the key demo compared to the underwhelming midseason premiere. That continues what has become a two-year ratings skid for one of television’s most-watched offerings.
In December, producer and Skybound Entertainment CEO David Alpert chalked up the decline in viewership to the surplus of options in the Peak TV era.
“I think overall we’re seeing increased competition, not just from television and not just from streaming services, but you get content everywhere,” he said. “The idea that people watch things super live, that need to view on the same night and we’re measuring ratings like a live rating, I feel like it’s a little be anachronistic to be like, ‘Oh, you’re not holding the same ratings that you were.’”
Alpert isn’t wrong to suggest that the sheer volume of options has drawn away eyeballs.
The 2018 year is expected to support more than 500 scripted TV series, after all. But the declining viewership makes it unlikely that The Walking Dead lasts at least 13 seasons, which showrunner Scott Gimple is aiming for.
The Walking Dead still emerged as cable’s top-rated and most-watched show of the night, despite facing off against the Academy Awards, which also saw a major downturn in viewership. The truth is, cord-cutting, streaming and SVOD services continue to eat into live viewership and that trend is only getting worse. There’s a reason that all major awards shows, along with the NFL and presidential addresses, are drawing smaller crowds at home.
This is just the new reality of television.