'Fear the Walking Dead' Premiere Scares Up Record Ratings

AMC Zombie Thriller Out-Delivers Early Expectations

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The beginning of the end of the world was a big win for AMC on Sunday night.
The beginning of the end of the world was a big win for AMC on Sunday night. Credit: AMC
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AMC's "Fear the Walking Dead" scared up a huge crowd on Sunday night, setting an all-time record for a cable series premiere with a delivery of 10.1 million viewers and a 4.9 rating in the adults 18-49 demo.

According to rush Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the companion series to TV's No. 1 scripted show drew 6.26 million members of the advertiser-coveted demo, breaking the previous record held by AMC's own "Better Call Saul." The "Breaking Bad" prequel bowed Feb. 8 to a 3.4 rating, which translated to 4.32 million adults 18 to 49.

It's worth noting that "Better Call Saul" enjoyed the advantage of a massive lead-in, courtesy of the midseason premiere of Season six of "The Walking Dead," which earlier in the evening averaged 15.6 million total viewers and an 8.0 -- or 10.2 million targeted viewers -- in the dollar demo.

When compared to the debut of "The Walking Dead," "Fear" looks like a world-beater. The original zombie apocalypse drama bowed on Halloween in 2010, drawing a then-record 5.35 million viewers and a 2.5 in the dollar demo. Of course, whether "Fear" will enjoy the upward trajectory of its predecessor remains to be seen. Last season, "Walking Dead" repeated its reign as TV's top-rated scripted series, averaging a staggering 7.4 in the demo, marking a 9% increase from its year-ago average (6.8).

To put the first episode of "Fear" in perspective, it beat out every other summer premiere, be it cable or broadcast, by a country mile. ABC's "The Whispers" had boasted TV's high-water mark since June 1, when it bowed to a 1.5 in the demo. "Fear" more than trebled that rating.

"Fear" also blew every TV series premiere of the 2014-15 season out of the proverbial water. By comparison, the biggest series opener of the campaign that concluded last May was Fox's "Empire," which drew a remarkable 3.8 rating on Jan. 7. "Empire" would go on to draw a jaw-dropping 6.9 in the demo in the latter half of its two-part March 18 season finale.

Media buyers said that "Fear" was the summer's most sought-after property, thanks to its high-profile brand and association with that other ambulatory-corpses drama. As such, it's the most expensive inventory on the market, with the average 30-second ad unit fetching around $325,500 a pop in the upfront. Meanwhile, units that sold in the scatter market have commanded upwards of $370,000.

As AMC Networks Exec VP-Ad Sales Chief Scott Collins recently told AdAge, "Fear" has been a magnet for movie money, and the premiere featured a wealth of studio promos. First out of the gate was a 60-second spot for Twentieth Century Fox's "The Martian," which bowed in the A-position of the very first commercial pod. The studio also invested in a 30-second promo for "The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials."

Other movie teasers featured in the "Fear" premiere included Lionsgate's "Sicario," Universal Pictures' "The Visit" and The Weinstein Co.'s "No Escape," according to iSpot.tv.

Studio dollars aside, other top spenders in the premiere were Apple's iPhone, Taco Bell, AT&T, Samsung Mobile, T-Mobile and FX, which aired a teaser for its upcoming Kurt Sutter period drama "The Bastard Executioner."

AMC originally had planned to hold back on its ratings announcement until the live-plus-three-day numbers became available at the end of this week. Apparently, the earliest batch of deliveries was sufficiently huge for the network to break its own self-imposed embargo.

"It is increasingly difficult to evaluate a show's success on night one. However, we are releasing these live-same-day ratings because 'Fear the Walking Dead' delivered record-breaking numbers that are all the more special in this era of time-shifted viewing and audience fragmentation," said AMC/Sundance TV president Charlie Collier. "To have a companion series to the No. 1 show on television driving communal, urgent viewing, social activity and pop cultural relevance of this magnitude is truly differentiating."