Overnight ratings are in for Sunday night’s The Walking Dead, and although many headlines will emphasize the fact that it’s the lowest-rated season finale in five years, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It is true that 11.3 million total viewers for the season finale is lower than any other season finale since 2012. However, there are a number of caveats. First of all, 11.3 million viewers makes the finale the highest-rated episode since the midseason premiere. It’s nearly one million viewers more than last week’s episode. Second, The Walking Dead season finale faced stiff competition this week from the Big Little Lies finale on HBO and the return of Wrestlemania.
More importantly, however, is this: Overnight ratings have been trending downwards all season for The Walking Dead, but overnight ratings are almost “meaningless.” Some networks — like FX — won’t even report on overnight ratings anymore, because so many more viewers are added on DVR. The Americans, for instance, nearly triples its ratings once DVR viewership is accounted for, growing from a show that should be cancelled with around 900,000 viewers to a modestly rated cable drama with 2.4 million viewers.