Breaking Bad: Breaking Down the Data [SPOILER ALERT]

|Alex Bennett

The final episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad attracted 10.3 million viewers in its first airing at 9 p.m. on September 29th and ranked third of all cable series finales, behind only HBO’s “Sopranos” in 2007 (11.9 million) and “Sex and the City” in 2004 (10.6 million).

But the craze surrounding Breaking Bad’s final season was certainly not confined to television screens. 33,912 pieces of content about Breaking Bad were published in Outbrain’s network between August 1st and September 30th.

We decided to analyze our data on these stories to answer range of questions, from where Breaking Bad content was most popular to which characters attracted the largest digital audience.

How Popular was Breaking Bad Around the World?

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This is probably not what you expected to see but Breaking Bad was the most popular (as a percentage of the country’s total page views) in the U.K. Vince Gilligan has commented that, “Netflix has been instrumental in making Breaking Bad the success that it is – particularly in the U.K. and Ireland, where it has built an audience and become a huge phenomenon” (Netflix subscribers in the U.K. and Ireland had exclusive access to all of the episodes immediately after they aired in the U.S.).

Following the British, Americans and Australians showed roughly equal levels of interest in the show. It may come as less of a shock that Breaking Bad’s popularity in Australia was almost tied with that of America when you consider that Australians led the world in Breaking Bad downloads during its final season.

Just How Addicted was America over the course of Breaking Bad’s final season?

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At first the show couldn’t quite sustain the hype that surrounded the premiere; but, by the time the 6th episode aired, interest was stronger than ever. Audience interest in Breaking Bad content, as a percentage of total U.S. page views, ultimately peaked on the day of the series finale at 1% of total U.S. page views.

Unsurprisingly, the consumption trend line shows peaks immediately following the airing of each episode over the course of the season.

Our data suggests that the interim between episodes 5 and 6 was the most suspenseful: While the Breaking Bad fervor typically eases up in between episodes, we see that fans could barely take a break from Breaking Bad content between episodes 5 and 6. Considering the incredibly shocking cliffhanger that ended episode 5, who could blame them?

Where were the Biggest Breaking Bad Addicts in the U.S.?

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Breaking Bad was the most popular in the state where the story took place: New Mexico. Here, page views on Breaking Bad content amounted to .4% of total page views over the course of the 8-week season and 2.3% of total page views on the day of the series finale.

New Yorkers were the 2nd biggest fans of the show, with Breaking Bad content comprising .26% of their total page views in August and September. New York was closely followed by D.C., Massachusetts and California.

Which Character was Most Popular?

Of the 33k Breaking Bad stories published in Outbrain’s network, 14% focused on one of the 4 main characters. We looked into which of these characters was most popular among Breaking Bad fans, in terms of their share of total page views on these character-focused stories. It turns out, the answer depends on which point in the season you’re looking at:

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Unsurprisingly, the main character of the show, Walter White, was the most popular character throughout most of the final season. However, the other characters managed to win over the online audience at times.

After Skyler pleasantly surprises her slew of haters by deciding to stand by Walt in episode 2, her popularity skyrockets, reaching 90% of total content consumed about the Breaking Bad characters on the day before episode 3.

Jesse successfully steals the attention of the audience away from Walt after nearly burning down the Whites’ house and joining forces with the DEA to take down Walt (59% of page views on the day after episode 4).

With his survival in question at the end of episode 5, Hank wins over the audience during the anticipation of episode 6 (as much as 75% of page views on one of these days).

Which Rivalry were Breaking Bad Fans More immersed in? 

There were two major rivalries that were coming to a head during the final season: one between Walter and Jesse and one between Walter and Hank. On the day before the premiere aired, a staggering 250 stories were published in Outbrain’s network covering the impending showdown between Walter and Hank.

Despite all this hype at the onset of the season, fans were just as immersed in the rivalry between Walter and Jesse and shifted almost all of their attention in this direction as season progressed:

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This mid-season shift was not only a shift in editorial focus, but, more so, in consumer interest: The popularity of the Walt vs. Jesse rivalry over the Walt vs. Hank rivalry was more pronounced in terms of page views (99:1) than in terms of stories published (3:1) post-episode 3.

By the end of the season, the total number of stories published on Walt vs. Hank still outnumbered those on Walt vs. Jesse by 4:1, yet the Walt vs. Jesse stories had accumulated 5 times as many page views.

Where in the U.S. are the Actors’ Biggest Fans?

Many of the Breaking Bad stories published in Outbrain’s network featured one of the main actors in their headlines. We took a look at the breakdown of page views among these actor-focused stories, on both national and regional scales.

Bryan Cranston was the most read about of the 5 lead actors in all but 3 states, where the majority of page views went to Aaron Paul. As an Idaho-native, Aaron Paul won 64% of the page views there. Aaron Paul was also the most read about actor in Washington and Texas.

Betsy Brandt was the least popular of the 5 actors in every state but her following was biggest in Michigan, the state where she was born. Anna Gunn was most popular in Alaska at 24% of actor page views, Dean Norris was most popular in D.C. at 10% of actor page views and Bryan Cranston was most popular in Ohio at 44% of page views.

But what about the creator of the show, Vince Gilligan? 1% of the 33k stories mentioned Vince Gilligan in their headlines. Overall, page views on these stories represented 3% of the total page views on Breaking Bad stories. Vince Gilligan grabbed the biggest slice of the Breaking Bad attention in California and New York.

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Alex Bennett

Alex Bennett

Alex is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Outbrain, where she is responsible for extracting and delivering data-driven insights to content... Read more

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