'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!

  • russ

    i think lost a lot of people because the different things they have done in the last two years. this might not effect twd as much as you think.

  • Tabitha

    Where’s the POLL?

  • AppleStinx

    Thank Heavens for EZRA (Equal Zombie Rights Advocates) and UZAIR (United Zombies Against Irrational Ramblings). As long as zombies have the proper documentation, who is to say they shouldn’t ride a bike or drive a Kombi? Zombies on Kombis. Having thick dark molasses for brains notwithstandind. :grin:

  • Rolls Royce

    i think the show has reached a peak in season 2. depending on how you look at it, i predict a downward spiral. it will be still be renewed, basically because its the highest show on AMC. so with dish dropping it, and a bad second season i dont think they will break any records

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Amanda Kondolojy


    What about CURE? Zombies are people too!

  • Ray

    Do the Nielsen ratings include zombie households? Can zombies use a remote?

  • AppleStinx

    Amanda Kondolojy wrote: “What about CURE? Zombies are people too!”

    I commend CURE for bringing equality and rights for zombies to the forefront of the Public’s consciousness, but I wished they used a different acronym. With “CURE” there is this implication that something is wrong or sick with being a zombie! :wink:

  • Tom

    @Apple What’s wrong with zombies? On TWD, they treat people like hors d’oeuvres. That’s definitely not politically correct.

  • Serra

    Gat article Robert. Very informative and the last paragraph is a classic!
    Love this site!

  • Serra


  • AppleStinx


    You have a point. Zombies are different from, say, mutants of X-Men.

  • AppleStinx

    That’s conjecture on my part since I don’t know what mutants in X-Men ate for hors d’oeuvres.

  • Tom

    New Reality Series: Zombie Rehab starring Dr. Drew.

  • Richard Steven Hack

    I’m going to give these idiots one, maybe two, episodes. If they’re as unbelievably boring as the entire last season, the hell with them…

  • Jp

    From the previews it looks like they are following the comic books, things are going to get really good really quick! The books get pretty intense with addition of new characters, Governor and Michonne. Fans are going to flock in to see what happens, big numbers to follow beating everything else on cable….

  • Meanie

    Idk what’s going on but I see ppl posting it will do 5.0 and even higher than that. I mean I believe that is reaching for the stars.

    I think the fact of s2 being boring to certain fans and having to wait so long for a new season it will be around 3.5 – 4.0 but rating wise is see atleast 7million for first premiere.

  • rehabber

    While I did enjoy Walking Dead, I had rather not have my DishNetwork cost go up for that one show that I watched on AMC. I can live without it.

  • Sans

    Logging in to the free episode site is proving problematic, however, so that will likely affect ratings as well.

  • AniMatsuri

    One thing is sure, AMC seems to be wearing “not on Dish” badge proudly since some of the TWD banners I’ve seen have Dish with the red “no” symbol over it just to rub it in.

  • Grimman

    Dish losing AMC doesn’t just mean The Walking Dead. Mad Men and Breaking Bad too. Jesus, I would switch networks if it were me.

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