Television today is a far cry from what it once was in the ‘80s or even ‘90s. In those eras, fans of the gruesome and grotesque had to resort to extremely low-budget cash grabs such as FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES, an episodic series based on the wildly successful Freddy Krueger film franchise, or short-lived serials like TWIN PEAKS to get their frightening fix. TALES FROM THE CRYPT notwithstanding, the latter decades of the twentieth century left much to be desired in the way of horror at home. Luckily for the current generation, home entertainment, whether beamed by satellite or streamed online, has steadily risen in popularity, along with budgets.
Typically an afterthought for cable network executives, horror as a serial genre has experienced something of a renaissance since the dawn of the twenty-first century, with critically-acclaimed shows such as AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD and a successful re-launch of Fox’s THE X-FILES. With greater numbers of distribution channels and producers of original content surfacing every year, there’s no telling how proliferated the market could become with horror hit-makers. For an in-depth assessment of the success that horror as a genre has experienced on the tube as of late, there is arguably not better resource to turn to than good, old-fashioned Nielsen ratings.
Viewership and season renewals. These are terms that go hand-in-hand when it comes to quantifying the success of horror on the small screen. In a stark departure from box-office dollars, which dictate the relative success or failure of a film in theaters, viewer ratings reign supreme as the basis of success as far as television is concerned. The higher, the better. Go figure. Now, when assessing the performance of horror as a genre on television, it’s interesting to compare and contrast a few of the past decade’s most prolific serials:
TV Show Avg. Series Ratings
BATES MOTEL 1.908 million viewers
THE WALKING DEAD 10.675 million viewers
AMERICAN HORROR STORY 3.034 million viewers
THE X-FILES 14.814 million viewers
THE STRAIN 1.377 million viewers
Clearly there are some significant ratings disparities in this random sampling alone. However, given the growing share of horror as a television genre (see pie chart below), and the burgeoning popularity of serials willing to push the envelope, horror is, in large part, responsible for ushering in a new age of television that is effectively skewing the ratios in favor of more adult-oriented programming.
As the numbers demonstrate, terror on the tube has become a big business for broadcast networks and cable stations alike. Whether received by a dish, fed directly by a hard line, or streamed digitally, horror is scaring up ratings and grabbing a larger slice of the pie for itself each and every passing year. With May sweeps just around the corner, and an impressive lineup of bone-chilling entertainment across all service providers, it remains to be seen just how much deeper horror will cut into those ratings to snatch valuable viewer eyeballs and pocket lucrative advertisers’ dollars for their respective distributors.