The Walking Dead comes out on the very top

Generally speaking, when it comes to television ratings, we tend to measure seasons. As in, “Show XYZ was the lowest rated show this season” or “Show XYZ was the highest rated freshman show this season.” But 2017 here, it makes sense to measure performance across all of 2016. And, once again, The Walking Dead comes out on the very top.

The Walking Dead LogoImage Credit: AMC

Since we’re looking at the entire calendar year here, this would include the second half of The Walking Dead Season 6 and the first half of Season 7. There’s been a lot of chatter about how ratings for the show were down this fall and that’s true. Several Season 7 episodes hit rating lows not seen since Season 3. Nonetheless, according to TV By The Numbers‘ year-end report, The Walking Dead was still the number one show among adults ages 18-49.

That’s significant because the 18-49 demographic is the one networks try their hardest to appeal to. Why? Because networks rely on advertising dollars to pay for their shows, and advertisers are most interested in viewers within that age range.

Top Shows For Adults 18-49

Here’s a look at the top ten highest-rated and most-watched shows (excluding live sports) for 2016 among adults ages 18-49:

Rank Show Network # of Episodes 18-49 Rating 18-49 Viewers (Millions)
1 The Walking Dead AMC 16 8.8 11.27
2 The Big Bang Theory CBS 24 5.5 6.99
3 Empire FOX 17 5.3 6.79
4 Game of Thrones HBO 10 5.3 6.73
5 The X-Files FOX 6 4.8


As you can see, not only is The Walking Dead the number one show, it has twice as many viewers as the second highest-rated show, The Big Bang Theory. That’s especially impressive considering The Big Bang Theory is on broadcast television, while The Walking Dead requires a cable or satellite subscription to view.

In fact, when you look at the top shows among all viewers, The Walking Dead is the only cable show to even crack the top 20. As you may know, older viewers love CBS and its countless crime procedurals. So when you factor in all viewers, CBS dominates the list.

Top Shows Among All Viewers

Here’s a look at the top ten most-watched shows (excluding live sports) for 2016 among all viewers:

Rank Show Network # of Episodes Viewers (Millions)
1 The Big Bang Theory CBS 24 19.94
2 NCIS CBS 23 19.65
3 The Walking Dead AMC 16 17.89
4 Bull CBS 9 16.69
5 NCIS: New Orleans CBS 22


Now, it’s easy to look at these numbers and shrug off all the naysayers. After all, despite the declining ratings, The Walking Dead is still dominating the airwaves. In fairness, though, I have to point out that these ratings paint a somewhat incomplete portrait.

Since the ratings for The Walking Dead didn’t start to fall until after the Season 7 premiere (which actually set a record, by the way), these numbers have that episode and the second half of Season 6 to prop them up. If the ratings stay the same or fall any lower this spring, we could be looking at a very different chart at the end of 2017.

None of that means The Walking Dead is in any danger of being canceled. Anyone who thinks that is crazy. However, without some improvement in the ratings, 2017 could be the first time in the past several years where The Walking Dead drops out of the number one spot.

Are you surprised to see The Walking Dead dominating the ratings again this year? What can the show do to stop the downward trend next year?

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