A Soviet-era satellite crashing to Earth was a major plot point in the Season 10 opener of The Walking Dead as AMC’s zombie apocalypse series fell double-digits among viewers to an all-time series low.
However, even more than last year, the audience of 4 million snared by Sunday’s “Lines We Cross” episode doesn’t actually tell the whole story – at least not in this era of television. The tale that is told is that TWD fell 34% in sets of eyeballs from the kickoff to Season 9 on October 7 last year. That also marks a slide of 3% in total viewers from the previous series low of Season 9’s 15th episode, the “The Calm Before” of March 24 this year.
Among adults 18-49 and adults 25-54, the Season 10 debut crumbled 44% and 34% from the 2018 premiere to 1.4 and 1.9 ratings, respectively. Those are also all-time debut lows, and for the former at least, also a series low.
Yes, those numbers look bad, even in an era of small-screen Live+Same Day declines across both broadcast and cable. Yet, the real deal is that a lot of the eyeballs that couldn’t get enough of the series now showrun by Angela Kang and based on Robert Kirkman’s now-defunct comic had gobbled up their helping of end-of-the-world eye candy days beforehand. While debuting on the cabler Sunday, the Kang-penned and Greg Nicotero-directed Season 10 opener had actually been available on the AMC Premiere subscription service since September 29.
Last year, signing up for the $5-a month AMC Premiere got you the TWD Season 9 opener a day early for what ended up being the second least-watched and lowest-rated season debut in the Frank Darabont-developed show’s history. This year, it was literally a whole week earlier if you put down your credit card and signed up for the commercial-free version of AMC Premiere. None of those numbers are included in the linear viewership.
To juice that proposition even more, the cabler put the Norman Reedus- and Danai Gurira-led cast read of the first episode of Season 10 up on AMC Premiere on Sunday. To keep the good times rolling, forthcoming episodes will be digitally dropped 48 hours before they show up on cable TV, and expanded versions of the third and fourth episodes of the new season will be posted on the digital service in the coming weeks.
Now, how much that impacted the Season 10 opener is an empirical unknown. As it did in 2018, AMC has said it saw strong subscription signups leading up to the digital launch of Season 10, but the outlet isn’t providing hard numbers. That mutes some of the argument against the harshness of the linear declines. Yet, sources close to the situation tell me subscriptions were behind last year’s record signup, but still quite solid.
All of which is to say, with another Walking Dead spinoff set to drop next year and revenue streams much more varied than just a couple of years ago, AMC isn’t entirely obsessed with whether you show up to watch the mothershow on Sunday nights.
The fact remains that TWD’s Season 11 renewal was just announced at New York Comic Con and fan favorite Lauren Cohan is coming back. In addition, the show is still the top-rated in all of ad-supported cable among adults 18-49 and adults 25-54
Down but nowhere near out, The Walking Dead has a long silk road ahead of it for AMC.