At a time when more people watch their favorite shows on their own schedule – instead of when the episodes originally air – viewers flocked to the nearest TV to watch the final season of Breaking Bad live. In Brooklyn neighborhoods populated by young artists without cable, bars that aired the show bumped up their revenues, while those who didn’t saw a big dip in revenues.
AMC’s Breaking Bad averaged 6 million viewers tuning in live each week for the show’s last season, according to Nielson. Households with video-on-demand have risen to 60 percent, up from 37 percent in 2008, Nielson found. While Breaking Bad can’t claim the largest audiences – the Walking Dead’s most recent season drew an average 7.8 million viewers per episode live – Breaking Bad helped local bars in north Brooklyn draw more customers than the last seasons of either the Walking Dead or Mad Men.
Audiences were drawn to a community viewing experience, as staff at The Exley, a cocktail bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, discovered.
Owner Matthew Ricke has aired other AMC shows in The Exley before, but revenues from Breaking Bad’s final season nearly doubled Ricke’s normal Sunday revenue. The source: the two-hour period when the show itself aired and the hour beforehand when people came to get a seat.
“It’s very helpful for business,” said Ricke. “It tends to be fairly communal and interactive.”
The premiere in August drew almost 100 people to the 45-seat bar, forcing 35 people to watch from the sidewalk. When the show was on, the customers were completely silent, he said.
Nearly a dozen bars in Brooklyn organized parties for the season premiere or aired the episodes weekly, although some only started doing so once they saw how many customers they could attract.
The Pine Box Rock Shop, a warehouse bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn, has aired AMC’s shows, including Breaking Bad. While Walking Dead drew 25 regulars, Breaking Bad consistently attracted 200 people a week. Heather Rush, the bar’s owner, knew that if she didn’t grab those customers herself, she would have lost them to other businesses that aired the show, as opposed to the customers’ living rooms.
“A lot of people out here don’t have cable, which is an interesting part of being in a young neighborhood,” said Rush. “The nights that there have been televised events, they would go to some other business to watch.”
The show’s finale drew nearly 400 people to the Pine Box, raising Sunday revenues 15-20 percent above regular Breaking Bad nights.
“When stuff got really intense [during the show] people were quiet and shushing each other,” including people standing on the street watching, said Rush. “It was bananas.”
Not everyone seized the opportunity.
The Bounty, a raw bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, did not air the show and saw business drop by 80 percent the night of the season premiere in August. Revenues hovered around 75 percent the following weeks, said owner Lance Hess. As business crawled, staff started calling Sunday nights Breaking Bounty.
“The people who were doing well, especially bars, are the ones running Breaking Bad nights and showing it at the bar,” said Hess, who is a fan of the show and will watch the episodes he has recorded on his DVR.
Back at the Pine Box, Rush held trivia for the finale and gave away a Roomba, a nod to the floor cleaner used by one of the show’s characters.
“We’ll probably still have good business for Walking Dead,” said Rush, though not at the level seen during Breaking Bad. “I don’t think it’s going to be repeatable.”