Plenty has been written about what Breaking Bad and the machinations of Walter White say about running a business, but outside of its fictional world of the meth trade, one of the show's lasting legacies will be its impact on the business of how we watch and consume television.
It's fair to say that the return of Breaking Bad for its midseason premiere was a success. The show had record ratings with 5.9 million viewers, nearly double its previous high. For perspective, that means that over 2 million more people watched Walt and Hank's confrontation than tuned in to see who Don Draper would sleep with in Mad Men's most recent season premiere.
Both Breaking Bad and Mad Men are credited with helping AMC shape itself as a supplier of more than just movie reruns, but Breaking Bad was the show that really pushed the network over the edge. In a Q&A with BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur, the channel's president Charlie Collier said that when Bryan Cranston won an Emmy for his work in the show's first season he said: "Now we’re a network. We have two shows."
Becoming "a network," with the help of Breaking Bad and other shows like ratings boon The Walking Dead, helped AMC devise what Quartz's Zachary Seward describes as an ingenious strategy. The network has produced a core group of shows so beloved by viewers that AMC can charge cable companies high rates to broadcast them. Having shows like this "provided enough leverage for AMC to demand that cable companies pay higher affiliate fees, which rose from 22 cents per customer per month in 2007 to 33 cents in 2013—a 50% jump in five years, according to estimates by SNL Kagan," Seward wrote, noting that those figures don't include AMC Networks' other channels. "When Dish Network balked at paying higher fees last year, AMC ultimately won the dispute."
Breaking Bad's availability on Netflix is also helping both the network and the streaming service. Seward noted that AMC is "more progressive than nearly any other cable network" in sharing its shows on the Internet. In fact, the network is allowing UK Netflix users to watch new episodes on the site nearly immediately after they air. Andrew Wallenstein at Variety credited the ratings boost that Breaking Bad saw Sunday night to the binge watchers who caught up on the entire show on Netflix. That raises both the show's and Netflix's profile, especially if other series see a similar Netflix boost. "Maybe the studio should be paying Netflix instead of the other way around, given you could argue that the studio gets more marketing muscle than the streaming service gets from the content addition," Wallenstein suggested. If, say, Fox's New Girl also gets a boost after turning to Netflix streaming, the company could be in a better spot than ever before to leverage studios.
Sometimes their Internet savvy maybe goes a bit too far. Fans on iTunes were angered when they realized they would have to purchase the last eight episodes, which began Sunday, separately from the first part of season five.
The show has had an impact on a smaller scale as well. Aside from making Albuquerque a tourist destination, Breaking Bad's presence in the city has made it more of a destination for Hollywood folks, the AP's Russell Contreras reported. NBC's hospital drama The Night Shift will call Albuquerque its home, despite taking place in San Antonio.
Of course, now the test is whether Breaking Bad's influence on the industry is lasting. AMC certainly has other shows in its arsenal—The Walking Dead is a huge hit—and the Netflix effect is still new. But for now Walter White's is the real kingpin.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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