All You People Did This Year Was Watch The Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty

Show pitch: zombie ducks

Take even a cursory glance at the Nielsen ratings for TV’s dollar demo and two cable series will jump right out at you: AMC’s The Walking Dead and A&E’s Duck Dynasty. Of the top 50 telecasts for the year to date, The Walking Dead accounted for 16—including nine of the top 10—while Duck Dynasty boasted 22 entries. Everything else on the list was football (NFL and college), the series finale of Breaking Bad, or the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

In an age of extreme fragmentation, The Walking Dead has shown not just that it’s still possible for a show to have the same kind of mainstream appeal network execs remember from the good old days, but that it’s possible for that show to exist on cable. There’s been plenty of discussion of whether Walking Dead has peaked or diminished in the past season or so; at no point, though, has viewership abated even a little bit. 

Duck Dynasty is also a major success story, and one with very wide margins. (A&E has even trademarked the Robertson boys’ signature camouflage pattern, and you’d better believe the stars trot it out for all their public appearances). And the hits just keep coming—Duck Dynasty’s Wednesday night Christmas special drew some 8.89 million total viewers, of which more than half (4.5 million) were members of the 18-49 demo.

In terms of overall reach, ESPN’s coverage of the 2013 BCS Championship Game put up the biggest numbers, averaging 26.5 million viewers on Jan. 7 despite the rather lopsided outcome. Leading 28-0 at the half, Alabama would go on to claim a decisive 42-14 victory over Notre Dame. But even college football’s title game couldn’t lay claim to the top spot in the dollar demo, as the season premiere of The Walking Dead scared up a staggering 13.6 million adults 18-49. (The title tilt managed “just” 11.8 million, good for fifth place on the year.

Because demo guarantees are the stuff that TV buys are made of, everyone over 55 is considered “waste,” despite the Boomer demo’s relative affluence. It’s been said more than once that television buyers should consider petitioning for a higher age breakdown—a 55-65 demo, for example—although they’d first need to get marketers on board. CBS’ Les Moonves, whose shows do notably well with 25-54 year-olds, said as much to Businessweek: “Someone needs to show me where an 18-year-old consumer buys more than a 50-year-old,” Moonves said.

Boomers are wealthy, healthy and more technically savvy than it gets credit for, and they also watch a hell of a lot more TV than do the younger set—as much as 100 more minutes per night.  (And when was the last time anyone heard of a TV executive under 40?) Perhaps it’s time for advertisers to shift priorities and reach out to an older audience when they buy TV, especially if that’s all TV is going to sell.