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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cable TV: USA Network Is On A Ratings Roll!

USA Takes Second Consecutive Qtr. Ratings Win
Net has now won five of the last six quarterly contests

USA Network notched its second consecutive quarterly ratings win, averaging 2.73 million viewers in prime time for the period spanning March 31 through June 29.

According to Nielsen Media Research data, USA has now won five of the last six quarterly contests, a record of consistency that helped the network claim some of the highest CPM increases in this year’s cable upfront.

Thanks in part to its new hit drama series In Plain Sight, USA was able to bridge the demo gap between it and rival TNT, pulling out a win among adults 25-54 and 18-49 just a week after the ratings suggested that the Turner net would take the two categories.

As of June 22, TNT had been ahead of USA by a razor-thin margin among the 25-54 set, averaging 1.26 million members of the demo versus USA’s 1.25 million. Once the final week’s numbers were tallied, however, USA broke away from TNT, taking the older demo by a score of 1.27 million to 1.24 million.

(The ratings intel reflects a blend of live-plus-seven viewership data and live-plus-same-day scores.)

The same pattern held for the 18-49 race, as TNT had been up by a slight lead a week ago, averaging 1.26 million to USA’s 1.24 million. When the afterburners kicked in, USA picked up that demo as well, averaging 1.27 million viewers to TNT’s 1.24 million.

As is often the case, USA was lifted by its original programming. Bowing June 1, the witness-protection drama In Plain Sight was seen by 5.92 million viewers once DVR playback was brought to bear, representing a 12 percent increase over USA’s original haul of 5.25 million viewers.

Leading out of USA’s second season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Sight stands as the second quarter’s top-rated original scripted series on cable, outdrawing Lifetime’s Army Wives in the Sunday 10 p.m. time slot. After originally beating out Sight in its June 8 season debut, Wives has lost ground of late, averaging 3.84 million viewers with its most recent premiere episode (June 29), while Sight scared up 4.46 million viewers on the same night.

All told, USA claimed 20 of the quarter’s top 50 programs. The Monday night WWE Raw package accounted for 15 of those, while giving USA its single largest audience of the period with an average 6.17 million viewers (June 23, 10 p.m.).

Year-over-year, USA grew its average prime-time audience by 6 percent in the quarter, while upping its standing among viewers 25-54 by 8 percent.

TNT took second place, averaging 2.43 million viewers, while tying sibling TBS for dominance among the 18-34 crowd (581,000). TNT enjoyed strong growth among the demos, improving by 9 percent among 18-34s, 8 percent among the coveted 18-49 set and 7 percent with its delivery of 25-54s.

The sporty Turner net laid claim to an even dozen of the quarter’s most-watched programs, drawing crowds in May with its coverage of the NBA Playoffs and in June with its Sunday afternoon Nascar events.

All told, TNT accounted for five of the top 10 programs on cable, landing its largest audience (7.28 million viewers) with game four of the NBA Western Conference finals match-up between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

TBS continued its winning ways, finishing the quarter in third place with 1.74 million viewers, an increase of 10 percent versus the prior-year period. The network’s focus on comedy helped drive up its delivery of 18-34s by 33 percent, while bettering its showing among 18-49s by 16 percent (993,000, good for third place).

While TBS increased its presence among the younger demos, the net also improved among 25-54s, averaging 855,000, an increase of 9 percent year-over-year.

ESPN’s NBA hoops coverage helped it land the number-four spot in prime, boosting its average delivery by 22 percent to 1.73 million viewers. The sports net’s presentation of the Eastern Conference finals showdown between the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons accounted for five of the quarter’s top 25 most-watched programs, topping out with the deciding sixth game of the series, which served up 6.45 million on the night of May 30.

Basketball also helped ESPN crank up its demo deliveries, as the net upped its take of adults 25-54 by 27 percent (820,000), while improving among 18-49s by 24 percent (841,000). Both numbers were good enough to claim fourth place on the quarter.

Nick-at-Nite wrapped the quarter with an average 1.71 million viewers, up 33 percent versus the year-ago period, boosted in part by perennial favorite SpongeBob SquarePants and the series finale of Zoey 101.

The April 11 SpongeBob special “Pest of the West” was ad-supported cable’s third most-watched program of the quarter, averaging 6.57 million viewers at 8 p.m. Less than a month later, Nick closed the books on the Zoey saga with a one hour movie that was seen by some 5.35 million viewers on May 2.

Rounding out the top 10 were: Fox News Channel, up 8 percent on the quarter with an average delivery of 1.59 million viewers; Lifetime, up 4 percent to 1.5 million viewers; Spike TV, up 16 percent to 1.38 million viewers; Discovery Channel, down 6 percent to 1.27 million viewers and A&E, off 2 percent to 1.26 million viewers.

While FNC has dominated the cable news landscape over the course of the last six-and-a-half years, the network experienced a reversal in the first quarter of 2008, losing the key 25-54 demo to CNN by some 14,000 viewers (444,000 to 430,000). That said, FNC in the second quarter recouped its standing among the core news demo, averaging 343,000 members of the category in prime, to CNN’s 297,000. MSNBC took third among 25-54s with 271,000.

Of the top 40 ad-supported cable nets, only 10 saw declines in total viewership during the second quarter; moreover, 16 nets enjoyed gains of 10 percent or more in prime.

Among the biggest growers in the quarter were: ABC Family, up 16 percent to 1.14 million viewers; AMC, up 10 percent (1.02 million); CNN, up 26 percent (961,000); Food Network, up 12 percent (870,000); MSNBC, up 45 percent (690,000); Bravo, up 23 percent (683,000); E!, up 16 percent (548,000); Lifetime Movie Network, up 41 percent (534,000); Versus, up 60 percent (425,000); Oxygen, up 29 percent (386,000); National Geographic Channel, up 18 percent (381,000) and CMT, up 11 percent (367,000).

All told, ad-supported cable’s average household ratings grew 7 percent in the quarter, while the broadcast nets fell 3 percent. Among viewers 18-49, cable was up 10 percent overall, while broadcast dropped 7 percent from the previous year’s delivery.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel took third place among all measured cable nets, averaging 2.19 million viewers in prime, a drop of 8 percent versus the prior-year period. On June 20, the Mouse delivered the most-watched program of the quarter, bowing its latest original movie, Camp Rock, to an audience of 8.86 million viewers. (Nickelodeon’s Fairly Odd Parents movie still stands as 2008’s biggest draw, averaging 9.14 million viewers back on February 18.)

Despite the big numbers put up by Camp Rock stars the Jonas Brothers, Disney suffered some demo wilt in the quarter, losing 16 percent of its ‘tweens 9-14 audience (775,000), while dropping 12 percent of its kids 6-11 base (918,000).

That said, the network easily won both demos, more than doubling the delivery of its closest competitor (Cartoon Network) among kids 6-11, while outpacing rival Nick by nearly 40 percent among ‘tweens 9-14.

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