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Why ‘Walking Dead’s’ Ratings Are Still Worth Their Weight in Gold

The Walking Dead” Season 7 concluded on Sunday with the battle we’ve all been waiting for, but the real story this season has been the drop-off in the show’s previously untouchable ratings. But how bad has the drop really been?

First the bad news: “The Walking Dead” has definitely seen a significant decline in its live-plus-same day ratings this season, with the series posting its lowest average ratings since season 3 aired back in 2012. The premiere episode of this season, which saw Negan brutally beat two main characters to death, pulled in a staggering 17 million viewers and an 8.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic. The season finale, on the other hand, drew a 5.4 and 11.3 million viewers. That is a decline of approximately 34% in total viewers and 36% in the demo. While it is not uncommon to see a decline between a premiere episode and a finale, looking at percentages from past seasons paints a bleak picture.

Take a look at season 6, for example. Compared to the season premiere, the finale was down just 7% in the demo and 3% in total viewers. The season 5 finale was down 6% in the demo and 9% in total viewers.

Likewise, the average viewership this season was down from years past. Season 6 averaged a 6.5 and 13.2 million viewers per episode in live-plus-same day viewing. For season 5, it was even better with a 7.4 and 14.4 million. Including the finale ratings, season 7 averaged a 5.4 and 11.4 million.

But now the good news: Even with its ratings dropping to season 3 levels, “The Walking Dead” is the undisputed number one entertainment show on TV, a title it has held for a record-breaking five seasons. Even the lowest-rated episodes this season are still impressive, particularly for a cable series.

The worst-rated episode of season 7 was the episode that aired March 5, in which Rick and Michonne are on the road in search of guns. That episode drew a 4.7 and 10.2 million viewers. To put that in context, the next highest-rated cable entertainment program in the key demo that week was the series’ after-show “Talking Dead” which drew a 1.6 airing immediately after its parent program. In total viewers, the nearest competition was Discovery’s unscripted series “Gold Rush,” which pulled in 3.7 million viewers.

And it is not just cable. The series beats the best of broadcast as well. Again, looking at the worst-rated episode of “Walking Dead,” the top broadcast show in the key demo that week was the season premiere of “The Voice” on NBC, which drew a 3.1. That means Rick and company outdrew their nearest competition in the demo by 41 percent. In terms of total viewers that week, “Walking Dead” ranked at number six, ahead of all four NBC “Chicago” shows and “NCIS: Los Angeles” on CBS, among many others. Not bad for the worst offering this year.

And those are just the live-plus-same day ratings. The show is also on top in terms of delayed viewing. Season 7 is averaging 15.5 million viewers per episode in live-plus-three and 16.4 million in live-plus-seven, though those figures do not reflect delayed viewing for the season finale.

AMC has already renewed the show for an eighth season, so it remains to be seen if the downward trend was just a fluke — or the beginning of the end for the popular series.

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