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If you’ve been keeping tabs on The Walking Dead’s ratings this season, you should already know that the show has seen minor decreases nearly every week since Season 6 started airing. The exceptions would be the episodes that aired during the Glenncident, which saw a few additional viewers tune in live. This week’s midseason return, however, was down again, prompting many to ask whether or not The Walking Dead’s ratings are a bad sign for AMC. Well, the answer is yes and also no. In fact, the numbers are incredibly complicated.

In terms of live viewership, the Season 6 midseason return of The Walking Dead was down 12% in overall viewership from the midseason finale. Variety is also noting that in terms of the 18-49 advertising demo, The Walking Dead was actually down 15% from the numbers the winter finale did. The new drop comes after we reported various Walking Dead episodes also saw ratings drops in the fall. So the fact that less people are watching live is not new information, but the fact that new drops keep happening is a little bit disheartening.

On the surface, this would seem to indicate a trend in lesser viewership. Last fall, the Season 5 premiere of the hit drama brought in 17.3 million total viewers. This year, the Season 6 premiere only saw 14.63 million total viewers—and yes, that was the highest-rated episode of the season. Less viewers means less advertising dollars. It also means that AMC has lesser opportunities to plug other original programming for its own network—all bad things.

However, most of the time when we here at CinemaBlend report on ratings, we do so when the Live+Same Day numbers come out. Even though overall viewership for The Walking Dead in the United States is down, the show still does incredibly large ratings and still has a big DVR audience to boot. Since more and more people are watching television on a delay, The Walking Dead’s audience could be as big as ever, they just may not be invested enough in the show to want to tune in to watch the drama unfold on the night of. This is a trend that other network and cable shows are dealing with, as well.

Complicating things further is the fact that Sunday’s winter return numbers are less bad than they look. In fact, the midseason return was one of the highest-rated episodes of the season (not to mention one of the highest-rated TV programs on any network this year); it just so happened to come right after the winter finale, which was also one of the higher-rated episodes. You would think the Negan teases that have become a big part of the series might have pushed The Walking Dead to reach a ratings peak this winter, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people don’t really know Negan, yet. Comic readers are already familiar with the character, but The Walking Dead’s audience is vast, and right now Negan is only an idea, a name equated with dread and terror, but still just a name, nonetheless.

The Walking Dead may have peaked in terms of ratings and that’s bad for the water cooler moments the hit AMC series lives and dies by, but the reason the show is so well-watched now has to do with the fact that it was made available on streaming services which allowed audiences to catch up over time. There’s give and take there, certainly, and a drop in the ratings isn’t as simple, or as troubling, as it seems.
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