The Walking Dead returned to AMC this past Sunday night, marking its monumental tenth season. However, while the show’s season number entered the realm of double digits, it appears that its oft-discussed ratings decline has manifested in double digits as well. Unfortunately for The Walking Dead, its season premiere has provided the smallest same day viewership yet.
The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere episode, “Lines We Cross,” earned 4 million viewers and a 1.4 rating among adults 18-49, representing a 34% decline in total viewers from last year’s Season 9 premiere, which, itself, marked a series low (it would reach a new nadir in March with the season’s penultimate episode, which yielded 4.15 million viewers and 1.5 in the demo). Additionally, there was a 35 percent decline in AMC’s core demographic of adults 25-54 (2.9 rating to 1.9) and 42 percent in the aforementioned adults 18-49. However, as dire as those numbers appear, there is a mitigating narrative regarding the show’s low ratings that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in a rapidly evolving television landscape: streaming numbers.
In a move that may have thrown a wrench into the works of the show’s Live+Same Day viewership metrics, AMC released The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere episode on its $5 per month premium subscription service, AMC Premiere, on September 29 – commercial-free and one whole week before its proper premiere on the cable channel; a proposition that bested last year’s one-day-early streaming sneak preview. Of course, this is where the metrics become rather nebulous, since it’s difficult to determine how much same-day viewership was siphoned away by the AMC streaming alternative. Moreover, AMC plans to release subsequent new episodes 48 hours in advance on the platform, which is destined to further complicate things.
Yet, the narrative of The Walking Dead’s ratings slide has been prevalent for years – and, in all honesty, this writer is running out of pithy things to say about the topic, having written the annual “The Walking Dead’s new ratings low” article several times over the years. However, there is definitely something to the notion that same-day ratings don’t quite mean what they used to before the streaming revolution. While the show continues to maintain a solid hardcore fan base who religiously tune in each week, also catching after-show Talking Dead, the wider array of casual viewers now find themselves wading through more TV content than they have time to watch, which makes traditional tune-in viewings a far more difficult task.
Supplementing that narrative, AMC cites similar declines for the recent premieres of network shows like NBC smash drama This Is Us (-33%), CBS medical drama hit The Good Doctor (-29%) and spinoff comedy Young Sheldon (-38%). Thus, it could be the case that there are still casuals who still regularly watch The Walking Dead, but only does so on a perfunctory level, which makes alternatives like streaming and, as always, catching it later on DVR, a phenomenon that’s increasingly practiced, further stultifying the importance of same-day numbers.
Consequently, while the latest ratings dip is not good news for The Walking Dead, it’s hardly an existential threat, since AMC just announced its early renewal for Season 11, in addition to the continuing run of spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, and a yet-to-be-titled second spinoff series, along with a movie project that will reveal what happened to Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes. While the veteran series seems to endure one irrevocable setback after another, AMC remains undaunted in its maintenance of the small screen franchise, even after its main source material of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series recently called it quits. Indeed, one must assume that AMC isn’t just tilting at an undead windmill with this franchise, and that, as always, the money is talking – even if the Live+Same Day numbers aren’t.
The Walking Dead Season 10 airs Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m.