"The Walking Dead's" "Lost" Season

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” met a tough challenge Sunday opposite the Winter Olympics, but it didn’t seem to matter. As it resumed its fourth season, the top-rated series in cable history outdrew the Sochi Games among young adults while drawing its second largest overall audience to date.

According to Nielsen estimates, the first episode of “Walking Dead” since its Dec. 1 fall finale averaged an 8.2 rating in adults 18-49 (10.4 million) ans 15.8 million total viewers — matching its series high in the demo while coming in a bit behind the 16.1 million who tuned in for its season premiere last October.

This is all the more impressive numbers considering it was up against not only the Sochi Games but the 50th-anniversary Beatles tribute special on CBS as well as PBS’ “Downton Abbey.”

Of course, “Walking Dead” is used to facing some of the highest-rated programming on television, including NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” in the fall and the Oscars on ABC in the winter. (It also usually faces the Grammys on CBS, but those were held earlier than usual due to the Olympics.)

Head-to-head numbers weren’t available, but the Winter Olympics drew about a 7 rating in adults 18-49 during primetime while drawing about 26 million viewers overall, according to preliminary estimates.

Following “Walking Dead” at 10 p.m., post-show “Talking Dead” did a 3.1 rating in adults 18-49 and 5.9 million total viewers.

After averaging a 2.7 rating in adults 18-49 and about 5.2 million viewers overall for its first season in the fall of 2010, “The Walking Dead” has consistently seen its numbers rise with each half season. It went from a 3.4 demo rating in the fall of 2011, to a 3.9 in the winter of 2012; then a 5.3 rating for its fall 2012 episodes and a 5.8 last winter. Last fall, it swelled to a 6.6 demo rating.

Similarly, in total viewers it has more than doubled its audience from fall 2011 (6.45 million) to fall 2013 (13.0 million).

And “Walking Dead” grew its ratings significantly when DVR playback was included. In 2013, its original episodes went from a 6.2 demo rating and 12.2 million viewers in same-night numbers to an 8.6 and 16.5 million in Nielsen’s Live+7 (DVR playback within seven days).

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