How Hard Yellowstone's Season 4 Premiere Crushed It In The Ratings

Considering Yellowstone fans initially expected Season 4 to debut on Paramount Network in the summer months, the double-episode premiere understandably had a LOT of people eager to return to Montana to check up on the Dutton family after Season 3’s multiple cliffhangers. (Including some of the stars themselves.) But in a world where TV ratings are crumbling compared to years past, thanks in part to streaming’s rise, Yellowstone’s hectic and deadly return bucked the trends and absolutely crushed almost everything else on TV. Not just on Sunday night, either, but throughout the entirety of 2021, at least in some ways.

Let’s first focus on the biggest and arguably the most impressive detail here: Yellowstone’s Season 4 premiere, “Half the Money,” was watched by a whopping 8.38 million people on Paramount Network, with the second installment, “Phantom Pain,” maintaining 7.84 million people across Live + Same Day stats. That’s nearly double the number of people (4.23 million) who tuned in for Season 3’s premiere in June 2020, and absolutely set a new series high for overall viewership. The previous record had been set by the aforementioned Season 3 capper, “The World Is Purple,” which scored a then-impressive 5.16 million viewers. 

Wildly enough, that still doesn’t quite account for the entirety of Yellowstone’s Season 4 audience, as the double-episode premiere was simulcast across Pop, CMT and TV Land. It looks like at least 1.65 million additional viewers would be added to the first installment’s total, according to ShowbuzzDaily’s numbers, while Episode 402’s Sunday night audience would rise up another 1.49 million people or so. That. Is. Huge. And no other scripted series is pulling those numbers. Not Grey’s Anatomy, not the FBI franchise, and not even popular competition stalwarts like The Voice. To be sure, NCIS' Season 19 premiere is currently in the top slot with 8.45 million viewers, but without any simulcast totals to boost that stat. 

When it comes to entertainment TV shows, Yellowstone has now pulled in the biggest Live + Same Day audience for any cable show in the past 4 years, with only a couple of The Walking Dead’s Season 8 episodes reaching bigger crowds in that time frame. Naturally, Yellowstone couldn’t beat out NBC’s Sunday Night Football, which is known to be the most watched telecast on a weekly basis, at least during the NFL season. But if that and 60 Minutes weren’t around, Yellowstone would be the undisputed king of Sunday nights. And I think we can agree the Paramount Network western is more interesting to listen to.

Yes, Yellowstone also crushed it when it comes to the all-important key demographic for viewers 18-49, earning a stellar 1.6 rating with Ep 401 and a slight dip to a 1.5 rating for Ep 402. Compare that to the first three seasons, when not a single episode broke through the 1.0 demo rating ceiling without DVR totals added in. The first and final Season 3 episodes both earned a 0.9 rating, but Yellowstone doesn’t have time for front-loaded zeroes anymore. (And no, I’m not talking about Wes Bentley’s Jamie. Ohh!) In a wider comparison, the NCIS premiere mentioned earlier only earned a 0.7 demo rating, less than half of Yellowstone's two-episode average. 

Speaking of DVR totals, though, I cannot wait to see how much more impressive Yellowstone’s stats will get once delayed-viewing audiences are tallied. Season 3 averaged north of 2.5 million viewers tuning in during the week after episodes premiered, and we can likely expect for Season 4’s Live + 7 Day totals to dominate those as well.

Check out the extended Season 4 preview below to see what's on the way!

With more meaningful moments on the way between Kevin Costner’s John Dutton and Cole Hauser’s Rip Wheeler, Yellowstone airs Sunday nights on Paramount Network at 8:00 p.m., which millions of people are well aware of at this point. But be sure to stay tuned in after Episode 403 for the linear premiere of Paramount+'s new drama Mayor of Kingstown, co-created by Yellowstone's Taylor Sheridan and Hugh Dillon (better known as the western drama's Sheriff Donnie Haskell). 

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.