Duck Dynasty Smashes Cable Ratings Records

A&E hit returns to 11.8 million viewers

A&E’s Duck Dynasty is more addictive than quack.

Season 4 of the wildly popular unscripted series premiered to record ratings Wednesday night, delivering 11.8 million viewers, of which 6.26 million were members of the target demo (adults 25-54).

Per Nielsen, the Duck Dynasty opener also drew 6.33 million adults 18-49. The results make last night’s show the No. 1 series telecast in A&E history, among all key demos.

“Thanks to its authentic and engaging characters Duck Dynasty has become more than just a reality show, it is a cultural phenomenon,” said David McKillop, general manager and evp of A&E, by way of announcing the big returns. “We would like to thank the Robertsons for their incredible partnership. We are all ‘happy, happy, happy.’”

The 11.8 million total viewers cements Duck Dynasty’s standing as the most-watched unscripted telecast in cable TV history. (Sports are not included in this category.)

As one might expect, Duck Dynasty positively scorched its broadcast competition, averaging a 5.0 rating in the 18-49 demo, beating the networks’ combined 2.9 by 72 percent. In head-to-head competition in the 10 p.m. slot, CBS aired a repeat of CSI (6.07 million viewers, 1.0 rating), while ABC's The Lookout countered with 3.53 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo. NBC's scripted series Camp brought up the rear, delivering 3.41 million viewers and a 0.9 rating.

This has been a banner week for ad-supported cable. On Sunday night, AMC returned its Emmy-winning drama Breaking Bad to a series-high 5.92 million viewers and a 2.9 in the dollar demo, a performance that was followed up on Monday by VH1’s Love & Hip Hop (4.13 million viewers, 2.2 rating).

Duck Dynasty premiered in March 2012 to 1.81 million viewers and a 0.8 in the demo. From there, the show has steadily grown its audience, closing out Season 2 in front of 6.45 million viewers and 3.85 million adults 18-49/3.0 rating. Season 3 took to the skies with a draw of 8.62 million viewers and a 3.9 rating, a precursor to the 9.63 million viewers/4.3 rating secured by the April 24 finale.

A&E’s big ratings win comes on the heels of a lucrative upfront season in which the parent unit A+E Networks grew dollar volume by as much as 13 percent versus the 2012-13 bazaar.