Despite kicking off Rick Grimes' (Andrew Lincoln) heavily hyped final season, The Walking Dead's season 9 premiere ratings fell to an all-time low. While AMC's long-running zombie apocalypse drama ended season 8 by once again claiming the overall ratings crown among the advertiser-coveted 18-49-year-old demographic, it did so by much closer of a margin than it's managed in the past. That's because over the last two seasons, The Walking Dead has seen its ratings average absolutely plummet.
Last year's season 8 ended up averaging a 3.4 in the 18-49 demo, and about 7.8 million total viewers per episode. That amounted to an over 30 percent drop in the total viewer and demo averages posted by season 7. On that subject, season 7 averaged a 5.4 in the 18-49 demo and drew about 11.3 million viewers, itself a considerable drop from season 6's 6.5 demo average and 13 million total viewer average per episode. While it's fair to say that scripted TV as a whole has seen huge dips in live viewership in the last several years, the size of Walking Dead's falls have been much bigger than most, if only because it had farther to fall.
Going into season 9, positive advance reviews and an above average amount of hype surrounding the impending departures of stars Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan looked poised to possibly right the ratings ship for Walking Dead. Sadly, that doesn't look like it'll be the case. As reported by TV By The Numbers, season 9's premiere - entitled "A New Beginning" - earned only a 2.5 in the 18-49 demo, and drew in a total audience of just over 6 million live viewers. That's down a whopping 50 percent from the 5.0 demo rating posted by season 8's premiere, and over 30 percent from its total audience.
To put things fully in perspective, that 2.5 is The Walking Dead's lowest premiere rating ever, even below the 2.7 earned by the series' October 2010 debut. Sunday's total viewer count was slightly higher than Walking Dead's series premiere at least, which was watched live by 5.4 million viewers. Whichever way you look at it though, these numbers aren't a good omen for season 9's ratings prospects.
However, there's one other factor worth considering, first pointed out earlier today by Comic Book. Last year, AMC launched a premium streaming service called AMC Premiere, which lets subscribers watch episodes ad-free, and in some cases, early. It's only available to those who subscribe to a TV package containing AMC, but still, season 9's premiere was made available 24 hours in advance to AMC Premiere users. Figures on how many people used that service to view the episode early aren't available, but it definitely could've cut into the live viewership count. With that in mind, the real test of season 9's ratings may be next week, although it's worth noting that numbers rarely go up after a show's season premiere.
The Walking Dead season 9 airs Sundays on AMC.