'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!

  • WDFan

    I think it is very trashy of AMC to play these types of games with DISH viewers. I don’t have DISH but I completely side with DISH on this. I do not like it when any channel bullies a cable or satellite company for more money, because in the end, we viewers are the ones that end up paying the higher fees!

    AMC is cheap as dirt, anyway. They fired Frank Darabont. They don’t want to spend money on special effects. Now they have stretched the third season out to 16 episodes, probably so they can make more with advertisers. Gee, I wonder how many of them will be filler episodes. I wonder if they will stay at the prison all season like they stayed at the farm during the whole of Season Two to save money.

    This is why AMC should never own a series outright. Also, AMC, you idiots, stop broadcasting to me, a non-DISH subscriber, about not getting DISH. The people you are trying to reach with those ads do not get DISH! Just sign an agreement with DISH for the same rates you were getting before so your customers don’t have their rates raised.

  • monty

    Still the same crap as a year ago.

  • Chris

    In the graphic novel, the prison storyline lasted a long time. There’s no reason they have to just spend one season there.

    As to ‘no special effects’, I only wish they had not decided they had to show us a man’s leg getting chopped off with a hatchet. :\

  • AppleStinx

    The leg-chopping scene wasn’t too bad. What I cannot stand is to watch people walk over walkers that are sitting still, when there’s plenty of room to navigate around them.

  • Kevin

    My guess is that the numbers will be close. Breaking Bad’s numbers went up for season 5 part 1 which I’m guessing was because of people finding it on Netflix in the last year.

    With all the hype TWD has going for it this year a lot of new viewers or previously uninterested/casual viewers may be back and fill the void of the Dish customers.

  • Chandra

    Um, AMC has been blasting it all over that you can’t see it on DISH so dont’ assume those customers don’t know.

  • Chandra

    WDFan, it’s the highest rated drama in basic cable history. HECK YEAH it should be able to drive a hard bargain on their show.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    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.


  • Kyle32

    Boom goes Dish! A victory well deserved for AMC!

  • Will

    This proves what I suspected. Nobody has Dish.

  • xXxKometxXx

    Shows how much you all know it broke 10 mil even without dish!!!! Woot the walking dead is a beast!

  • Lee

    Looking back at the previous comments, nobody saw this coming. The biggest twist this show has delivered is in real life.

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