‘Empire’ Post-Game: Why the Fox Hit Can Still Grow

Empireblasted off into the stratosphere and the industry has been waiting for weeks for it to come back to Earth. They might have to wait a bit longer.

The Fox hip-hop drama set records left and right, soaring to an unprecedented ratings growth that will probably never be topped. And it accomplished this feat during an era where broadcast television has been eroding viewers more than ever before.

Now the question must be asked: Is it even done growing?

While it can be hard to see how a show that has already reached unreachable heights continue to add viewers, Fox should look no further than AMC. While Empire has reigned over pretty much everything else on TV, the breakout hit has one last challenge: finding a way to topple the zombies from The Walking Dead.

The AMC series, currently in the stretch run of its fifth season, still lords over all of television as the most-watched show in the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demo. Dead’s most recent episode notched a 7.0 rating in the demo, so Empire has come the closest of any series so far to the zombie hit’s lofty numbers. However, Walking Dead still holds the record in the demo with an 8.7 rating for its premiere back in October and it would be a surprise if that number weren’t topped again for the March 29 finale. However, as the zombie drama heads into its sixth season, it’s fair to wonder if the ratings will start to plateau.

For the past few years, broadcast execs have lamented that a cable series has held the top spot among young adults. Empire represents the old guard’s best chance to reclaim the demo throne. One media buyer told B&C that Empire was getting “Walking Dead money” for its commercial spots for Wednesday’s finale.

Shortly after the ratings for Empire’s finale came out on Wednesday, Hulu – which is partly-owned by Fox parent 21st Century Fox – announced an exclusive streaming deal that will make the entire season available immediately to Hulu Plus subscribers. InB&C’s cover story this week on Empire, Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley said they were still seeing heavy viewership for the Jan. 7 premiere on VOD and other non-linear platforms.

While Empire probably won’t have the same level of week-to-week growth it experienced for its first season, the hip-hop drama should still be able to add viewers when it returns for what is sure to be a heavily anticipated sophomore follow up.

If a cable network like AMC is still able to grow The Walking Dead after five seasons, it stands to reason that a broadcast network like Fox – which has a larger reach – can devour even more viewers.