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Sunday was a big night for cable. AMC behemoth The Walking Dead returned for the second half of its sixth season, and HBO launched what could prove to be its most ambitious series of 2016, 1970s rock drama Vinyl. And while both networks are part of the growing, industrywide move to ignore same-day ratings in favor of time-shifting, the significance of both premieres demands some acknowledgement of the respective Sunday showings.
Walking Dead easily topped the night in TV, as it is wont to do, averaging 13.7 million viewers and a 6.8 rating among adults 18-49 in Nielsen’s holiday-delayed numbers. For TV’s top-rated series, that’s off 15 percent from the midseason opener last year. That installment nabbed a 8.0 rating in the key demo and 15.6 million viewers on premiere night. In its favor, the episode was virtually even with the midseason ender.
Still a massive live draw, the AMC series does seem to be skewing a little more towards time-shifting. The first half of the sixth season, the first to dip from the one prior, also saw more significant gains with DVR and on-demand than those previously. The season-six opener, for example, climbed more than 30 percent in its first round of live-plus-three day ratings. And Walking Dead did not have to contend with airing on the eve of a holiday for its last midseason opener, returning the week prior to Presidents’ Day. The extended weekend likely saw many viewers otherwise occupied on the typically heavy night for TV watching. Still, it seems safe to suggest that Walking Dead has reached (and moved on from) its ratings apex.
Expectations for Vinyl‘s live viewership are obviously much smaller. Even HBO’s biggest hit, Game of Thrones, more than doubles its night-of haul within a week thanks to the pay cable service’s array of viewing options (on demand, HBO Go and ample encores) that now includes over-the-top service HBO Now. Vinyl‘s first night at bat saw it bring in just an average 760,000 viewers over the course of the two-hour premiere. That’s an undeniably soft opening for a HBO drama, in line with The Leftovers’ second season, though it will likely recoup significantly with gross viewership. (The 18-49 demographic is irrelevant to the ad-free premium outlet.)
HBO’s current roster of dramas is thin. Vinyl joins Game of Thrones and The Leftovers (recently renewed for a third and final run) on the docket. True Detective has been in limbo since the end of its second run, though creator Nic Pizzolatto signed a deal to do other projects with the network. And Westworld was expected to join Vinyl on the 2016 lineup, but recent production delays have thrown its premiere date up in the air.
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