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‘Mad Men’ Season Premiere Rating Up 21% — Due to Netflix?

27 Mar, 2012 By: Erik Gruenwedel

"Mad Men"

AMC Networks said the season five two-hour premiere of Emmy-award winning “Mad Men” (March 25) was watched by 3.5 million viewers — up 21% from the 2.9 million who watched season four premiere July 25, 2010. It was highest-rated episode in the history of the series, which is produced by Lionsgate.

“Mad Men” — about New York City advertising executives in 1960s and starring Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery — had been on a 17-month hiatus following a 12-month delay due to protracted contracts talks between creator Matthew Weiner and Lionsgate.

Benjamin Mogil, analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Toronto, attributed the spike in viewers to the past four seasons of “Mad Men” being available online exclusively on Netflix during the hiatus. If so, it would suggest a majority of Netflix’s 21 million members also subscribe to bundled channels offered by cable, satellite and telco operators.

“AMC is widely available in basically all households,” Mogil said in an email. “My comments were that the availability of the first four seasons on Netflix allowed people whom had heard about the show but had not yet seen it the chance to catch up for season five and that showed in the ratings.”

Mogil added that the deal also helped Lionsgate sell more physical discs of “Mad Men,” in addition to licensing the program abroad. All four seasons of the show are available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Netflix’s seven-season deal with Lionsgate affords the streaming pioneer access to the current season a year after its initial airing on AMC. Netflix and AMC have similar deals with “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad.”

Eric Wold, analyst with B. Riley & Co. in Los Angeles, isn’t so sure about the Netflix connection.

Indeed, “Mad Men” had a built-in core audience hungry for new episodes from the critically acclaimed series when contract talks stalled. While the typical Netflix subscriber fits the demo associated with “Mad Men,” it is probably safe to assume most members had already seen past episodes before they became available for streaming.

“I think that's almost impossible to know for sure,” Wold said in an email.

Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles agreed Netflix might have had something to do with the viewership spike — but not much.

“[It’s] hard to allocate the split between pent up demand and Netflix, though,” Pachter said in an email.

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