Walking Dead, Downton Abbey Win Ratings Gold Over Winter Olympics

Sundays are quickly becoming a battleground night with HBO, Showtime, AMC, and the major broadcasters all claiming a share of the audience. But with the Olympics airing its closing ceremonies, many expected the balance of power to temporarily shift. It didn't.

(Credit NBC/Getty)

Olympics

The Olympics got roughed up over the past two weeks, but that happens when the host city is in a time zone that doesn't translate to events being shown live in primetime in the U.S. Add to that increased viewing competition and the fact their weren't as many "name" athletes this time around, NBC (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) ) grabbed ratings for the Winter Games' that went noticeably downhill after a respectable start.

Sunday's closing ceremonies capped off a ratings slide with a 3.3 in the important 18-49 demo, which is down from the 5.5 demo rating Vancouver had in 2010. The news didn't get much better in the household ratings -- it did an 8.7/13, which is a new low, dipping below 2006's Torino capper. On the bright side its 15.1 million viewers may not be massive, but it did top Torino's 14.8 million mark. The record for the least viewers of the closing ceremonies still belongs to Innsbruck's 1976 games, which had 12.9 million viewers.

Downton Abbey

(Credit: iTV/PBS)

On the other hand it was a good night for Downton Abbey as it ended its fourth season stateside with its double-length finale. The Crawley crew drew 8.5 million viewers, which is 300,000 viewers more than the 8.2 million that tuned into season three's tear-jerker finale last year.

The results aren't really shocking though as the show was already having its highest rated season yet. The premiere opened to 10.2 million viewers (a 22% jump from the 7.9 million who watched the season 3 debut). Remember, Downton also did well against the Super Bowl, earning 6.8 million viewers, a 200,000 year-to-year gain.

Downton also had a stellar run in the U.K. this season on iTV (LSE: ITV  ) , where it drew 9.5 million viewers to start and 9.8 million to end. Taking into account all forms of viewing, the show averaged close to 12 million per episode, making it the highest-rated TV drama in the U.K. of 2013.

The Walking Dead

(Credit: AMC)

For the third week in row the Olympics also got walked over by The Walking Dead. Sunday's episode did a 6.6 in the demo compared to the 3.3 pulled by the Olympics. In terms of viewers that translates to 8.4 million -- less than the Winter Games, but not a surprise. It's common for Dead to rise in the 18-49 demo and fall in total numbers. AMC (NASDAQ: AMCX) will take that trade-off any day as the demo is the one advertisers most covet. 

Previews

NBC also had an additional reason to key an eye on those numbers Sunday night as the network again carved out a window to sneak preview a new series. Growing up Fisher posted a 2.0 rating in the demo with 8.8 million viewers. While some sites have said that those numbers were solid, I don't agree. That's lower than the 4.1 demo rating and 12.4 million viewer sample that Animal Practice did in 2012 and a steep 59% plunge in the demo from when The Marriage Ref aired in that slot following 2010's capper. Saturday's sneak of About a Boy did comparable numbers with a 2.2 rating in the 18-49 demo and 8.3 million viewers overall.

Granted the retention rates for both shows were strong, and you have to take into account that it didn't have the same size audience as a lead-in the other shows had coming out of past Olympics. But still many had expected slightly higher numbers. Now we wait until the shows settle into their official timeslots this week and see if the Olympic bump finally works the way it was intended, or if it is back to the drawing board before Rio's 2016 games.

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