Skip to main content

Whither the Walking Dead

I have a little joke with myself that goes something like this:

Q: When are a TV show's ratings in trouble?

A: When the fan updating its Wikipedia page uses both live + time-shifted numbers for its viewership numbers.

That may be a somewhat obtuse private joke, so allow me to explain.

First, television ratings are handled by a company called Nielsen. Many of us have, at one time or another, been part of "Nielsen families," wherein our household television viewing habits were monitored for a period of time. Next, "live" ratings are those based upon who watched the program at the time that it originally aired. "Time shift" viewings are those officially counted on stuff like DVR and iTunes, within a reasonable period of time after the original airing. Finally, "rating" is a bit of a dinosaur term these days, as Nielsen pretty much reports a show's viewership these days, and not its actual rating, which is a different number.

Now that that's clear, let's take a look at (as an example) Doctor Who. The highest-rated episode of the (new) Doctor Who program is 2007's Christmas special featuring Kylie Minogue, Voyage of the Damned. It was watched by 13.3 million people in England. I know this because I'm a nerd, and look up television show ratings online. In this case, Wikipedia has the information and, because I've been monitoring this for several years, I can tell you that 13.3 million is the 'live' number of viewers. It was so strong, that whoever goes in and updates the show's viewing figures was happy enough to leave it at the live numbers. In recent years, however, as ratings have begun to slide, I notice that the final number is that of live + time-shift.

You may have noticed that the title of this post refers to The Walking Dead. I'm getting to it. There's no denying the show's popularity. It has a monster audience (no pun intended), especially for a cable show. And, until this month, its ratings have done nothing but grow. I've been following them over the years, and they have trended as follows:

Season 1/series premiere: 5.35 million
Season 2 premiere: 7.26 million
Season 3 premiere: 10.8 million
Season 4 premiere: 16.1 million
Season 5 premiere: 17.2 million
Season 6 premiere: 14.6 million

The season 5 premiere episode is the highest-rated for the show so far. As you'll note, the season 6 premiere is the first time that viewership has dipped for the program at the start of a new season. 14.6 million is still a mammoth number for cable viewership, and shouldn't be sniffed at, but nothing lasts forever. And, for the first time ever in my history of monitoring Walking Dead ratings over the past five years, I saw two curious things. The first was an article that, for the first time I can recall, notated what an episode's ratings were if you included time-shift viewing (19.5 million in the case of the season 6 premiere). Second, I noticed that the Wikipedia page was updated to include this number (it has since been changed back to the live number, ahem).

The Walking Dead has always made its ratings headlines with its live numbers. The fact that the press and fans have taken to including time-shift numbers is a sign that the live numbers may not ever be what they once were. This isn't by any means out-of-the-norm. Almost all shows (unless they go out on top like Andy Griffith or Seinfeld) see declining ratings toward the end of their run. The problem (if you want to even call it that) is of an archival nature. If you've always notated a show's ratings based upon what its live rating was, then is it accurate to have later episodes include time-shifted numbers? Doesn't that make for an uneven comparison?

If there is one takeaway from the situation of Walking Dead's now-declining ratings, it's that the show needs to think seriously of its exit plan. As I remarked earlier, nothing lasts forever. Eventually, the show will come to an end, as all good stories must. From an artistic point-of-view, when should it end? Note that the creator of the comics has said that he has story-line ideas for at least a hundred more comics. That's all well and good, but comic books and TV shows are different beasts. Also, from a commercial standpoint, the fact that Walking Dead has been such a massive hit begs the question: How long do you want it to go before its ratings dwindle down to nothing?

After all the hype, all the eyeballs glued to TV screens, all the appointment television viewing, the intense interest in what comes next, do the showrunners want to see their program finish-off at a point when they're back to numbers in the ballpark of when it began? That would mean a drop-off of well over half its peak viewership. Is that what they want -- to wrap-up a show that, by the time it ends, nobody really cares about anymore?


Popular posts from this blog

If You Could Read My Mind

Dance clubs are a funny thing. They contain within their walls a life force and vibrancy sometimes unmatched anywhere else. When dusk settles and the lights come on, people will flood the dance floors to gyrate to music with hypnotic beats and songs about love, lust and fun at the disco. At gay bars, this sort of scenario usually increases ten-fold. It isn't for everyone, but for many it is a respite from the harsh realities of the real word. It is a place that isn't just a structure, but a sanctuary where folks -- minorities in their own communities -- can take shelter and unwind with abandon, at least for a few nighttime hours.
As someone who benefited greatly from such an aforementioned gay dance club, you can imagine my dismay at news of the closing of Chester Street Bar. In business for over three decades, gay-owned and operated, there was a time when C-Street (as it was known by most) was the only haven for those in the LGBT community, near and far, to enjoy themselves …

Third Death

My father has had three funerals. The third (though perhaps not final) one, was last night.
In reality, Lewis died in 1997. Cancer. Aged 52. He had a real funeral. I was there. The next two funerals occurred only in my dreams, yet they seemed real at the time, and their impact during the waking hours was keenly felt.
You see, during the intervening nineteen years, Lewis has come back to life in my dreams, many times. It is more than simply having a dream about him. During these nighttime images, it is noted that Lewis shouldn't be there, that he died of cancer and is resting six feet under. How, then, could he be alive and, seemingly, healthy?

Thoughts on an Election

Before I get started on the ruminations of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, I'll begin by saying I really have no clue as to who our next president will be. I've always fretted over the outcome of elections, regardless of the polls, and this year is no different. Especially this year. A good case can be made as to why Hillary Clinton will become our 45th president. All one has to do is look at the polls. Clinton has a comfortable lead in many states, enough to make one think that she will win handily on November 8th.
Of course, polls can be wrong. 538 gives Clinton's changes of winning in the low-mid 80 percent range. Several polls would seem to agree. Many Republicans are jumping ship from Trump. The race looks over. But of course, humanity isn't as easily predictable as polling would have us believe. Things happen. People can surprise us. And, for better or worse, I think that Donald Trump may very well become our next president.