'The Walking Dead' Returns: Sans Dish Network, New Ratings Highs Won't Be Easy - Update: But It Did Anyway!

Categories: Cable TV

Written By

October 13th, 2012

Update: The Walking Dead absolutely crushed its previous records averaging 10.9 million viewers for the 9pm season 3 premiere and a whopping ~5.8 adults 18-49 rating.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday night with its third season premiere. AMC's basic cable ratings juggernaut has had an impressive run, ending its second season with series highs in just about every category including viewers (8.991 mullion ) and adults 18-49 (a whopping 4.7 rating) while also setting basic cable highs for a scripted drama. The second season finale rated impressively higher than the season two premiere which drew 7.3 million viewers and a 3.8 adults 18-49 rating. The first season premiered to a 2.7 adults 18-49 rating.  That's fantastic momentum heading into season three.

But AMC has been in a carriage dispute with Dish Networks resulting in AMC not being available to Dish subscribers. I originally figured the dispute would be resolved by the time Breaking Bad premiered in mid-July. That never happened. Then I figured the deal had to get worked out before The Walking Dead premiered in October.  Barring an eleventh hour deal -- which is typically what happens in such carriage disputes, -- AMC is going to lack the benefit of Dish Network.

Since the two parties are now months into the standoff, I'm not as optimistic as I'd normally be that something will get resolved before tomorrow night. AMC's position boils down to "you must pay us for our quality content" and Dish's position is "sorry, but we're not interested in paying that much for a few shows critics love but relative few watch and one show that LOTS of people watch but will only have 16 episodes this year." One can reasonably conclude that Dish customers aren't bailing out in droves, though my guess is many Dish customers who watch The Walking Dead won't even be aware of the dispute until they try to watch on Sunday night.

For its part AMC is offering Dish customers a live online stream of the season 3 premiere of The Walking Dead.

How Much Does Dish Matter?

I've seen a variety of reports claiming all sorts of numbers ranging from 14 million people to 20 million homes will be affected. From a ratings perspective all that really matters is what Nielsen says and how it models its panel. As of August, Nielsen had dropped its coverage estimates for AMC by 12 million households (homes, not people) once it went dark on Dish Network -- from 96.7 million households to 84.7 million. That's 10.5% of all TV households according to Nielsen and AMC's coverage percentage accordingly dropped from 84.3% of homes with televisions to 73.8%.

Ratings wonks will correctly note that despite the Dish squabble Breaking Bad still premiered to record highs - it's true, it did, and that was good news for AMC. But that record high was 2.93 million viewers.  It's fair to assume Breaking Bad numbers might have been at least a little bit higher with Dish, but it's also fair to assume that regardless, there's nearly 3 times as much interest in The Walking Dead so from a ratings perspective it will miss those 12 million homes quite a bit more than Breaking Bad did.

Who Cares?

Just to cut "who cares?" comment guy off at the pass, the only people who care are people who like speculating about ratings! In terms of what any of this actually means to The Walking Dead and renewal, it is indeed a "who cares?" situation. The Walking Dead is of course going to do great regardless. It might not set new series highs, but let's face it- everyone (us too!) raves about Sons of Anarchy beating the broadcast networks at 10pm on Tuesdays with a 2.3 adults 18-49 rating.

Dish or no Dish it's a safe bet that The Walking Dead will outperform Sons of Anarchy by a healthy margin, though I wish there was a show about a rogue band of zombie bikers in development! I'd be very interested in those ratings and it would be a lot of fun to see all of the "NO!!! ZOMBIES AREN'T CAPABLE OF RIDING MOTORCYCLES!" comments as if there were some scientific factual basis for what zombies can and cannot do!

  • Hafiz Halwi

    5.0 would be good but I will not put too much hope on that. Anything more than 3.0 is quite good already.

  • Nick

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it got between 5.0 and 5.3.


    I think a 3.5 to 3.8 is definitely within reach–higher, I dunno. One thing for sure is it will be the highest rated entertainment hour on Sunday night.

  • John A

    5.0 is too much. I go with a 4.2

  • Colin

    I say a 4.4. It’ll have between 6.5-7.3 M viewers

  • Hugh

    May not get a series high, but it will be better than the S2 Premiere

  • don

    this show will blow the rating apart this year with out dish

  • Feedback

    This site is odd. A community of people who get together on a website and speculate about ratings… seriously? Are you guys that bored?

  • Teaghan

    We find ratings interesting.

  • Nick



  • Tony JJ

    It will definitely not rate lower than a 4.5. I guessing it reaches a new high. While it will be harder due to the lack of Dish Network it should make it up (or most of it up) due to the netflix effect and the fact that The Walking Dead has increased so heavily every premiere/finale.

    I just recently got into this show because of netflix and it is amazing. Cannot wait until tomorrow!

    My final guess.
    5.0 demo and 10 million viewers.

    and are people really guessing low 3s and mid 2s? I mean really? It’d be less crazy to be guessing a 6.0 than it would be to be guessing 2.0-2.5.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Amanda Kondolojy

    Zombie bikers? C’mon Syfy Original Movies…make this happen!

  • richard


    ive never seen you comment on here. tell me if you watch any of these shows

    breaking bad
    malcolm in the middle

  • john

    The highest rating Walking Dead has done against football was the 7.3 million and 3.8 demo in the season 2 premiere. It exceeded 4.0 in the demo for the first and last episodes that appeared in February and March. It wont match the 9.0 million and 4.7 yet. It might get there in the second part of this season. I hope it exceeds the season 2 premiere, and I am predicting about 7.5 million viewers with a 4.0 demo.

  • I like this show

    Pretty pumped about S3 premiere. TWD season 2 criticism is just well dumb and those people are not smart enough to appreciate good tv “need more zombies” “need more violence”. S2 drag was needed to really establish who the characters are, S1 was only 6 episodes. Anyway season 3 promises to be even better hopefully we don’t here “they need to leave the prison it’s boring” LOL. Everything i’ve read and including the comics season 3 promises to be the best season yet.

  • Tom

    Question: Is there any evidence that this standoff has benefited Dish subscribers by keeping prices down? I’m about to dump Directv because I’ve had it with their incessant annual price increases. But, I have to wonder if Dish isn’t just pocketing the savings from the Dish standoff.

  • Barry Traylor

    As a Dish subscriber and a fan of The Walking Dead all I can say is that this really sucks. I have called Dish often to complain. Not that it seems to make a heck of a lot of differnce.

  • J.P.

    Hello All, long time lurker here.

    Dropping AMC is one of the main reasons I dropped Dish Network. I had signed up for America’s Top 120 package. Supposedly it was America’s top 120 most watched channels and AMC didn’t make the cut but a collection of home shopping networks did. To watch AMC, I would have to pay an additional $15 per month to get it along with 79 other channels that I didn’t care about.

    Given the decision to drop AMC and the poor performance of Dish Network’s DVR services, it was an easy decision for me to find another provider after only a year with Dish.

  • bluejays

    This is out and out my favorite show on TV. I love it. So as long as it does well enough to get another season after this that’s all I care about. I still think it will do really well. Maybe a similar rating to it’s season two premier.

  • ZOD


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