January 24, 2022

The Media Equation: ‘Walking Dead’ Helps Solidify AMC’s Ratings Success

When a show about the walking dead on basic cable beats every network show in the ratings demographic that advertisers care most about, you have to wonder who the real zombies are.

A zombie, after all, is something that continues to roam, and tries to devour all in its path even though its natural life is over — a description that does not sound that far-fetched when it comes to broadcast networks.

During its run last fall, “The Walking Dead” was the highest-rated show among viewers 18 to 49, the most-sought age group, with a bigger audience than network winners like “The Big Bang Theory,” “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Modern Family.”

Now the zombies are back for the second half of the show’s third season, and they continue to gnaw on everything in their path, including the broadcast networks’ historical claim to being the only place to find a mass audience. Three weeks ago, the zombies owned Sunday night, attracting 7.7 million viewers in the 18 to 49 range, more than any broadcast show in the land.

It gets better (or worse, if you are a network). AMC has a spinoff chat show about zombies called “The Talking Dead,” and even that is making waves. That same Sunday three weeks ago, “The Talking Dead” drew almost 2.8 million viewers ages 18 to 49, trumping NBC not just for the night, but for all of February.

Being a cable network, it’s clear, is less of a disadvantage than it used to be, as broadcast networks become just one more click on a seemingly infinite dial.

A couple of things are at work here. For years, inertia kept viewers locked on the big broadcast channels, but these days, consumers are roaming omnivores, hunting down whatever has heat and water-cooler value. And network appointment viewing has given way to foraging and bingeing.

AMC, along with its studio partners, has always made sure that if someone wants to catch up with America’s favorite zombies, or “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men,” two of its other hits, then past seasons are readily available — on demand, on Netflix or on iTunes. As a result, the audience for “The Walking Dead” is up 51 percent overall last year, and it is one of the most consistently talked about shows on social media.

It’s worth noting that the gap between basic cable and broadcast television has gradually shrunk as satellite and telecommunications companies have joined the fray. There are about 115 million television households in America, and some 99 million of them have access to AMC. On the networks, old franchises are tiring, new efforts are flopping in record time and a show like “The Walking Dead,” whose audience grew slowly and steadily over three seasons, is just not in the playbook.

“AMC sold the show to Netflix early, so when people started talking about it, it was there for the watching,” said Alexia Quadrani, a media analyst at JPMorgan.

Last Thursday, I visited Josh Sapan, the chief executive of AMC Networks, at his office across the street from Madison Square Garden. You might expect him to be celebrating his zombies’ success, but you’d be wrong. Mr. Sapan has been at AMC for 25 years and he is too superstitious to tempt the gods like that. As a collector of lightning rods — he has acquired more than a hundred, two of them on display in his office — he knows that sticking out has a cost.

“I would have put big odds against a cable show winning over network five years ago,” he said. Still, he warns, “People’s taste in what is popular can be very fleeting and short-lived. There is some alchemy at work here that is hard to diagnose and replicate.”

“It’s a big moment to those of us who are in the business,” he added, “but I don’t think the general public, especially young people, even think about where programming comes from.”

E-mail: carr@nytimes.com;

twitter.com/carr2n

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 3, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of years Josh Sapan has been at AMC. It is 25 years, not 24.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/business/media/walking-dead-helps-solidify-amcs-ratings-success.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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