Shifting gears on both sides of the camera for its ninth season with a new showrunner and the upcoming exit of leads Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead took a ratings hit and rise Sunday.
Following a weekend where cast and creatives of the AMC zombie apocalypse series took New York Comic Con by storm, about 6.1 million viewers tuned in for the Season 9 debut “A New Beginning” on October 7. That’s a huge drop of 47% from the more than 11 million that watched the Season 8 opener on October 22, 2017.
To put it in further perspective in a television landscape where declining ratings have become the norm on broadcast and cable, the only season premiere of TWD lower than Sunday’s just-over-an-hour episode was the 5.35 million that Season 1 debut snagged on Halloween 2010.
Year to year, the Season 9 premiere of TWD was down a further 14% in total audience from the fall the Season 8 opener saw after the series’ near all-time high of the double death Season 7 debut of October 23, 2016. That “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” episode had just more than 17 million viewers, and was virtually tied with the Season 5 debut.
Up against a strong Sunday Night Football Lone Star state NFL matchup between the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, TWD’s Season 9 start drew 3.2 million viewers and a 2.5 rating in the coveted 18-49 demo. Do the math and that’s an all time season opener low., down 7% from the Season 1 debut. It’s also a 51% free-fall from what the series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics drew for the Season 8 opener in the demo arena it has dominated for ages.
Compared to the Season 8 “Wrath” finale of April 15, “A New Beginning” fell 23 % in total viewers and 27% among 18-49s.
While still the second highest-rated show on TV behind NBC’s This Is Us in the key demo, that’s a lot of premiere numbers and perhaps a long-ish way of saying The Walking Dead’s blockbuster days seem to be behind it.
Because the future came knocking this weekend for TWD and it brought a bit of Power with it, it seems.
Similar to how the likes of the already well watched Starz drama Power has carved out a greater audience by dropping new episodes at midnight on Sundays for fans who sign up for the premium cabler’s app, AMC gave TWD fans an early bite on the show’s season premiere for the first time this weekend. If you signed up for the cabler’s $5-a-month AMC Premiere service this weekend, you got access to “A New Beginning” a full day before it aired on the traditional small screen at 9 PM ET.
Now, AMC sadly and counter-productively isn’t releasing hard numbers at this point, but I hear that October 6 saw a surge in signups for the commercial-free option, giving AMC Premiere — available on Comcast, YouTube TV, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Apple iOS — its best day ever with The Walking Dead‘s season opener. With an anecdotal look around social media this weekend and the realities of TV viewing in 2018, it doesn’t take much to make the leap that a not-insignificant portion of the hard-core TWD fanbase opted for the early-look option.
We may find out exactly how many fans that was later this week if AMC provides some of that AMC Premiere data with Live+3 numbers. Hopefully, because that’s a real new beginning.