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The Walking Dead Devours Scripted TV Foes

AMC’s zombie apocalypse drama draws record 12.3 million viewers

The Season 3.5 premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead on Sunday night tore the viscera out of its scripted-series competition, averaging an all-time record draw of 12.3 million viewers and a 6.1 in the dollar demo.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, “The Suicide King” scared up 7.7 million adults 18-49, an improvement of 6 percent versus the Oct. 14, 2012, season premiere and marking a 13 percent lift versus the previous eight-episode average (6.8 million).

Sunday night’s midseason premiere eclipsed the show’s previous record, set during the official Season 3 opener. On Oct. 14, Andrew Lincoln and company drew a then unheard-of 10.9 million viewers

What’s particularly compelling about last night’s deliveries is that they arrived in the teeth of CBS’ presentation of the 2013 Grammy Awards. Preliminary affiliate data for the broadcast put the overall audience at 28.4 million viewers and a 10.1 in the dollar demo. Given that The Walking Dead’s total deliveries increase around 51 percent upon application of a week of time-shifted viewing, Sunday night’s TWD premiere could grow to as much as 18.5 million viewers and a 9.2 in the demo.

The 6.1 rating cements The Walking Dead’s status as the top-rated scripted series on broadcast or cable TV. Through 15 episodes, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory is averaging a 5.36 in the demo, whereas TWD’s Season 3 average is now a 5.40.

Season to date, only the National Football League has a larger fan base than the ambulatory corpses that roam the Georgia countryside. NBC’s Sunday Night Football is such a ratings monster that its lowest delivery was a 6.7. All told, the 18-game SNF schedule averaged 21.4 million viewers and an 8.2 rating, down slightly from 21.5 million and an 8.4 a year ago.

While buyers once feared that the gory, gruesome zombie apocalypse drama would repel advertisers, The Walking Dead’s runaway success suggests that even QSR marketers are willing to overlook some bloodshed in the service of reaching the all-important under-50 set. Among some of the clients who have bought time in the show are KFC and Pizza Hut. (Yummers!)

Marketers who snapped up time on The Walking Dead during the 2012-13 upfront bazaar paid an average unit cost of $245,000 per spot. Last fall, scatter pricing soared to as much as $400,000 per :30.

Such is The Walking Dead’s stranglehold on young viewers—the median age of the Season 3 premiere was a dewy 31 years—that the show absolutely eclipses its broadcast competition in the 9-10 p.m. slot. Buyers estimate that ABC’s Revenge fetches as much as $160,000 per :30, while CBS’ The Good Wife takes in around $115,000 a pop. Fox’s similarly youth-targeted Family Guy ($275,000) and The Simpsons ($290,000) are the only Sunday night scripted series that give The Walking Dead a run for its money; that said, when Sunday Night Football is in season, it boasts a going rate of around $540,000 per :30.

In December, AMC announced it had renewed The Walking Dead for a fourth season although it would do so without the services of showrunner Glen Mazzara.

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