The Walking Dead
This is our fourth blog entry for AMC’s mega-hit horror series, “The Walking Dead,” which far surpasses any other stand-alone show we’ve reviewed in these pages. And for good reason. This zombie thriller has become the most popular ad-supported dramatic series, casting a wide net (and trance-like hold) on millions and millions of “Dead Heads” (apologies to fans of the Grateful Dead.) And according to Nielsen, it was the most tweeted series for the entire 2015-16 television season, averaging 435,000 tweets per episode.
While it is hardly a coincidence that “The Walking Dead” was originally launched on the night of Halloween several years ago (and continues to kick off each new season in the month of October), the fact of the matter is this post-apocalyptic series hardly requires a Halloween hook to reel in TV viewers. When a creepy, scary show like this one is nominated for over 60 awards, and wins nearly a third of them, viewers will eventually find the show with or without Halloween.
In past blogs, we noted that “The Walking Dead” defied ratings gravity by not only increasing its audience against a general decline in overall TV usage, but also added viewers at an accelerating rate. That was true up through Season Five, but last season viewing finally declined, falling back to an average Live U.S. Household rating level of 4.1 (good for a 5.5 share.) Still, these figures would be the envy of any ad-supported dramatic series on television today:
DVR Ratings Rise with the Dead!
How engaged and committed are “Dead Heads” to this mega-hit series? Very. We took a look at Live plus DVR ratings and the levels are simply astounding! 15-Days of DVR activity account for over 15 U.S. household rating points and when you add that to Live-only viewing, “The Walking Dead” nearly achieved a 20 rating – practically the same viewing level as last season (2015):
To get a sense of regional viewing skews for “The Walking Dead”, we selected the Top 25 DMAs with the highest ratings for the Season Six premiere episode, “First Time Again.” As can be seen below, practically every market falls within either southeast Appalachia, the Ohio Valley or the southern tip of Texas:
We’ve included a heat map (below) of last season’s premiere episode, “First Time Again.” TV markets with above average viewing are rendered in warm colors (red/orange), while markets with below average viewing are in blue. As you can see, running in a diagonal from the Ohio Valley southward are many of the highest viewing markets for “The Walking Dead.” Add to them the southern tip of Texas and you have 24 out of the 25 highest viewing DMAs:
Local Market Advertising
Over the past two seasons (Five & Six), “The Walking Dead” has attracted over 500 local cable advertisers, who have ordered nearly 5,000 30-second spots across 57 Viamedia local markets (three-quarters of our nationwide footprint.) That comes to an average of almost 10 spots per advertiser. And within the 42 markets that exhibited advertising on the show in Seasons Five and Six, we have seen a 9+% increase in ad investments, driven equally by an increase in the number of 30-second spots and higher unit rates.
(Source: B.I.G.SM database -- Copyright © 2016 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved)
In terms of local cable advertising categories, Automotive captures the lion’s share at 37% -- a tad higher than what we normally see company-wide (across all programs.) Entertainment & Travel at 12% share is double the company-wide figure, while Tune-in Advertising (TV/Radio/Media) at 8% is 3-times the company average:
You Can’t Keep a Good Zombie Down
What is propelling this series forward? Of course all the usual elements apply, including great direction; scary plot twists and turns; characters we can care about; and a cast of make-up artists who make dead zombies look all too real. But this show has something else going for it -- a not-so-secret plot generator in the form of an award-winning comic book series that is now up to 20-plus (and counting.) In the words of “The Walking Dead’s” Executive Producer, David Alpert, “…the original comics have given (the creators of the show)… enough ideas for…the next seven years.” In other words -- you can’t keep a good zombie down!