‘The Walking Dead’ Tops Nielsen Year-End Lists in TV, Social Media

The Walking Dead
Courtesy of AMC

More than five years into its run, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” remains a primetime powerhouse and is well-represented in Nielsen’s year-end lists of the most popular TV and social media draws of 2015.

According to Nielsen “live plus-7” estimates through mid-November, “Walking Dead” was the No. 1 entertainment series of the year in adults 18-49 and adults 18-34 and trailed only NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS” in total viewers. It averaged 19.7 million viewers per episode to hold off the year’s hottest newcomer, Fox’s “Empire” (17.8 million).

Walking Dead Nielsen Stats

The zombie drama was the most time-shifted television program of 2015 when comparing its viewership done same-day vs. that done within a week of a telecast. Nielsen estimates that “The Walking Dead” gained 10.89 million viewers in a week’s worth of VOD and DVR playback, and was followed by “The Big Bang Theory” (9.40 million), “Empire” (7.66 million) and NBC dramas “The Blacklist” (7.33 million) and “Blindspot” (7.13 million).

The top “L+7” gainers on a percentage basis for the year were all on cable: FX’s “Fargo” (240.3%), HBO’s “True Detective” (220.7%), AMC’s “Better Call Saul” (215.2%), A&E’s “Bates Motel” (201.8%) and HBO’s “Games of Thrones” (195.9%).

“Walking Dead” ruled as the No. 1 series on television in Twitter exposure for a second straight year, according to Nielsen, and gave AMC the top show for a third straight year (“Breaking Bad” ruled in 2013). On average, about 4 million people saw one or more of the 424,000 tweets sent about each new episode, and these tweets were sent by an average of 153,000 unique authors and seen about 28 million times. ABC’s “The Bachelor” was No. 1 in unique audience with 3.59 million, followed by HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (3.17 million), ABC’s “The Bachelorette” (2.59 million) and Fox’s “Empire (2.53 million). “Empire” actually averaged more tweets than any show during the year (559,000), with “Walking Dead” second (424,000) and ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” third (285,000).

2015 Top 10 Series on Twitter (Ranked by Unique Audience)
Rank Net Program Avg. Unique Audience (000) Avg. Unique Authors (000) Avg Tweets (000)
1 AMC The Walking Dead 3,978 153 424
2 ABC The Bachelor 3,593 72 156
3 HBO/HBO Latino Game of Thrones 3,171 74 152
4 ABC The Bachelorette 2,587 49 114
5 FOX Empire 2,525 137 559
6 FX AHS: Hotel 2,336 87 239
7 ABC Family Pretty Little Liars 2,272 86 285
8 ABC Scandal 2,154 59 222
9 NBC Parks and Recreation 2,105 43 89
10 ABC Grey’s Anatomy 1,986 54 120

Among specials (non-series, non-sports telecasts) to air in 2015, awards shows and political programs combined to account for the 10 most popular on Twitter. The Grammy Awards on CBS reached the largest audience of them all (13.32 million), edging out the Academy Awards on ABC (13.02 million), the MTV Video Music Awards on MTV in August (11.82 million), the Golden Globe Awards on NBC in January (10.44 million) and the American Music Awards  on ABC in November.

Boosting the total for the MTV Video Music Awards was the announcement on stage by Kanye West that he would be running for President of the United States in 2020. According to Nielsen, this resulted in the most-tweeted TV minute of 2015, with 248,000 tweets sent at 10:49 p.m. ET.

The three political programs to crack the top 10 in Total Unique Audience reached via Twitter were President Obama’s State of the Union address in January (9.73 million), the first Republican presidential primary debate of the year on Fox News Channel in August (9.28 million) and the second GOP debate on CNN in September (9.01 million).

NBC’s telecast of the Super Bowl, which was the most-watched program of the year with an average audience of 115.2 million viewers, also towered over everything else on Twitter. A Total Unique Audience of roughly 16.13 million people saw one or more of the 25.07 million tweets about the game, and the tweets were sent by 5.12 million unique authors and seen a total of 2.05 billion times.

No. 2 on the list was the pay-view-view boxing event between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao in May. It reached a Total Unique Audience of 11.62 million saw one or more of the 5.86 million tweets about the match, and the tweets were sent by 1.82 million unique authors and seen a total of 491.6 million times.

Top 10 Time-Shifted TV Programs of 2015
(Ranked by Absolute Difference)
Rank Program Network Absolute Difference
1 The Walking Dead AMC 10,894,000
2 The Big Bang Theory CBS 9,396,000
3 Empire FOX 7,663,000
4 The Blacklist NBC 7,327,000
5 Blindspot NBC 7,125,000
6 Modern Family ABC 7,052,000
7 Fear the Walking Dead AMC 6,945,000
8 NCIS CBS 6,916,000
9 Game of Thrones HBO 6,299,000
10 Scandal ABC 5,994,000

Source: Nielsen

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  1. Craig Jaffe says:

    Evaluating Nielsen’s social analytics platform reveals pros and cons. The primary conclusion is Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings (NTTR) never lived up to its big promise. No causation or meaningful correlation was made that demonstrates a connection between people who view TV-related tweets and actual TV viewership. The efficacy of social media in other areas suggests it most probably does help increase TV viewership, but NTTR’s failure to quantify the lift is a sobering reminder of the deficiencies of the service. NTTR is now more than 2 years old. As we begin a new year in 2016, those of us interested in measuring the impact of social media conversations may want to reconsider the usefulness of this data set. This is especially true for TV networks, agencies, and advertisers that pay for the service but get relatively little ROI from the respective investments. The data is unsuccessful in answering the important question: “Does social media increase TV viewership?” As a tool that merely reckons online users only, NTTR falls short there too, as it has yet to be accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC).

  2. Jeannie Carroll says:

    The best TV show ever! I watch it over and over! The actors deserve more recognition!

  3. Denise says:

    Congratulations to The Walking Dead!! #BestShowOnTV The fans know…now if the critics would catch up!! Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Norman Reedus, Danai G…so worthy of acting recognition!! Proud member of #TWDFamily

  4. Like I been saying for years! THE WALKING DEAD RULES!

    • DEFINITELY”!!”.,&”I AM ONE OF THOSE EXTREME,”SUPER/THE WALKING DEAD FAN’S”!!”.,TV, WILL JUST BE LOST,WITHOUT THE WALKING DEAD”!!”.,”GO”RICK/DARYL/MASHONE”&,OF, COURSE,”GO CAROL”!!”👍🙋💻📺📱

  5. SPIKE says:

    AMC zombies greenlight it; zombies write it, produce, and direct it; and zombies watch it. need I say more?

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