Spoilers for last season of The Walking Dead
A few days ago, I received an email from a friend of mine, and all it said was, “They killed Carl!” I felt briefly confused, until I remembered that my friend doesn’t have cable. He’s been watching The Walking Dead on Netflix for years, and he’d just gotten through the end of season 8. He’s not alone, of course. It’s likely that there are millions of people, both in the United States and across the globe, who watch The Walking Dead for the first time on Netflix. Netflix viewers, of course, are not counted in the Nielsen ratings.
However, those Nielsen ratings have been singled out by a number of outlets this year in alarmist ways, pointing toward what seems to be the show’s ultimate demise. “The Walking Dead’ Takes A Killer Hit As Ratings Fall To Series Low,” wrote Deadline earlier this week. The headline at I09 was, “The Walking Dead Just Had Its Worst Ratings Ever.” “The Walking Dead’s Season 9 Premiere Ratings Collapse To Season 1 Levels,” read the headline at Forbes, while FanSided led with, “The Walking Dead series-low ratings signal the beginning of the end.”
The Walking Dead isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, folks, and given how much it has improved in its 9th season, that’s a good thing. The thing is, the numbers that all of these ratings posts are based on are overnight numbers, which are basically meaningless in 2018, and yet for some reason, overnight ratings only seem to matter where it concerns The Walking Dead. They’re so meaningless now that FX refuses to consider them. For a lot of shows, that number jumps 100-150 percent after seven days of DVR viewership. Moreover, those overnight ratings rarely focus on the viewers that matter, which is viewers in the 18-49 demo.
The reality is this: After seven days of viewership, the six million viewers who tuned into the The Walking Dead premiere grew to a very respectable 9.3 million. More importantly, it held a 4.0 share in the 18-49 demographic. That’s a better number than Big Bang Theory and behind only This Is Us on ALL of television. The closest show on cable? American Horror Story with a 2.6. The next closest thing on cable right now? Mayans M.C. with a 1.6.
In other words, even with the ratings erosion over the last several seasons, The Walking Dead is still huge in the advertising friendly demo — it’s the second biggest scripted show on television, and that doesn’t even include those who watch it through AMC’s new subscription service, the large number of cord cutters who watch TWD on Sling TV or some other streaming services, those who watch it 9 months from now on Netflix, or the millions who illegally download the series (it was the second most illegally downloaded series of 2017). All things considered, it’s basically the third most popular TV series on the planet right now behind only Stranger Things and Game of Thrones.
In fact, I liken The Walking Dead to another long-running television drama, Grey’s Anatomy. That’s a show, now in its 15th season, that used to get a whopping 20-25 million viewers a week, but sometime around the 6th season, those ratings began to fall. However, it eventually leveled off in the 7 to 8 million viewer range, where it’s been for a very long time. In the demo? It’s still the fourth or fifth highest rated show on television, although it seldom gets the kind of attention that the shows above it get. But I suspect that’s just fine for its network. If The Walking Dead can hang on another 6 seasons and hold on to a top 5 spot in the 18-49 demo, I’m sure AMC will be happy, even if no one is left from the first few seasons except Daryl battling it out with a teenage Judith Grimes on the AMC stand-alone app, where it will air alongside the Better Call Saul spin-off, Hamlin McGill and Wexler.