Zombies Devour VMAs on MTV as 'Fear the Walking Dead' Returns Strong

VMAs No Match for the End of Days -- At Least Not on MTV Proper

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'Fear the Walking Dead.'
'Fear the Walking Dead.' Credit: AMC

Kanye West may have sucked all the air out of the room with his self-aggrandizing Video Vanguard acceptance speech, but in the end it was the zombies who devoured Los Angeles -- and scared up the most viewers -- on the last Sunday night in August.

Yeezy's rambling 11-minute address was arguably the highlight of the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, as it encapsulated the orgy of side-eyes, beef, teary self-regard and naked candor that preceded it. In keeping with the sheer loopiness of the VMAs, the speech was occasionally ludicrous -- "We are millennials, bro!" yelped the 38-year-old hip-hop star -- and amusingly myopic. "We are not going to control our kids with brands!" said Mr. West, a man who is quite literally married to a brand.

Kanye's bombastic bro-down (he uttered the interjection no fewer than 12 times) may have fired up the kids inside L.A.'s Microsoft Theater, but it wasn't necessarily a big hit with TV audiences. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, MTV's VMAs telecast delivered just 5.03 million viewers, down 39% from last year's 8.26 million.

Chalk it up to a hypercompetitive night, the ongoing abdication of younger viewers or the absence of Beyoncé, but the 2015 VMAs were down in every significant metric. MTV delivered a 4.6 rating among females 12 to 34, down 37% versus the year-ago 7.3, while adults 18 to 34 dropped 41% to a 3.3.

Among the broader TV demo, the VMA's 2.6 adults 18-to-49 rating represented a 38% decline compared to last year's 4.2.

All told, when simulcasts on MTV sibs VH1 (1.11 million viewers), TV Land (975,000), BET (943,000), Comedy Central (842,000), MTV2 (399,000) and CMT (272,000) were factored in, the VMAs delivered 9.57 million viewers. That figure does not include the modest contributions of less-distributed Viacom nets like Logo, VH1 Classic and Centric; when those numbers were rolled up, the VMAs were seen by around 9.8 million viewers, down from 10.3 million who took in the 2014 simulcasts.

While Miley, Taylor, Nikki and a blubbering Bieber did their best to put on a big show, the zombie apocalypse has other ideas. The second installment of AMC's six-part "Fear the Walking Dead" came back strong, averaging 8.18 million total viewers and a 4.1 in the crucial adults 18-49 demo. The latter figure translates into 5.21 million advertiser-coveted viewers, down from the 6.26 million members of the demo who tuned in for the record-shattering series premiere.

The drop from the opener's 4.9 live-same-day rating to Sunday night's 4.1 represents a winnowing of 16% of the demo rating, which is well within the standard 15%-20% losses new shows tend to experience between their first and second weeks. That said, the real test for "FTWD" comes on Sept. 13, when the show returns for its third installment -- AMC is side-stepping Labor Day weekend, when houesholds using TVs are fewer -- against NBC's "Sunday Night Football." The NFC East grudge match between New York and Dallas is almost certain to gobble up most of the night's gross ratings points; last year's Giants-Cowboys "Sundary Night Football" contest drew 22.4 million viewers and an 8.1 in the 18-to-49 demo.

For all the hoopla over the beginning of the end of the world, Sunday night's more adult-friendly cable dramas held their own against the AMC-Viacom onslaught. TNT's "The Last Ship" drew its highest 18-49 rating in 10 weeks, averaging a 0.8 in the demo, up 14% versus the previous week's draw, while Showtime's "Ray Donovan" improved a tenth of a point to match a season-high 0.5 rating.

Recently renewed for a third season, "The Last Ship" closes out its second tour of duty on Sunday night. "Ray Donovan" also has been picked up for another season; the Liev Schreiber-led ensemble wraps its third run on Showtime on Sunday, Sept. 27.

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