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Cable Ratings Hit A High Note

9/08/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Cable got its sizzle back this summer.

After suffering a summer primetime household-share loss in 2008 — mostly due to broadcast network NBC's record-setting Olympics coverage — cable set a summer share record this year, attracting two-thirds of all households watching television during the period of June 1 to Aug. 30.

USA's Royal PainsLed by USA Network, which averaged a cable-network record of 3.6 million primetime viewers during the hot summer months, basic-cable networks drew a 65 household share, which was up from last year's 61 share for the same period, according to a Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

By comparison, the four major broadcast networks averaged an all-time low 23 share during the 2009 summer season — well below the 28 share NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox drew in 2008. That year, the broadcast networks' share was paced by NBC's 16 day Olympics coverage, which reached 211 million people, more than any other event in U.S. TV history, according to NBC Universal.

Cable's performance is even more impressive when you take into account that viewers averaged a summer record of 32.2 hours per person per week of television viewing from June to August, according to Turner.

“Less than a quarter of the viewing in households during the summer is broadcast now — it's the biggest loss on record for the broadcast networks, and that includes other Olympics years,” said Turner Broadcasting System chief research officer Jack Wakshlag.

Along with the Olympics factor, Wakshlag also pointed to the recent digital transition for the significant migration of viewers from broadcast to cable. “In June, all the stations lost their analog feed, and as a result, people had to figure out how to watch broadcast TV,” he said. “As a result, you have further erosion of broadcast viewers to cable, which will continue to play itself out through next June.”

From an individual cable-network standpoint, USA Network garnered the lion's share of cable viewers, averaging a record 2.7 primetime household rating and 3.6 million viewers, according to a Disney-ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That bested Disney Channel's previous record of a 2.4 rating and 3.4 million viewers set in 2007.

The “characters welcome” network boasted the most-watched new series of the summer in the medical dramedy Royal Pains — which averaged an impressive 7.1 million viewers in its freshman run — as well as five of the top six returning series during the summer. The only non-USA returning show on the top list was TNT's The Closer, which led all summer shows with an average of 7.9 million viewers, according to Turner.

Disney Channel finished second to USA, averaging a 2.1 rating, up 11% over last year. TNT finished third with a flat 1.9 rating.

Fox News Channel notched an impressive 21% year-to-year gain to finish fourth with a 1.7 rating, followed by Nick at Nite, which posted an 8% increase to a 1.4 rating.

TBS and ESPN tied for sixth, with ratings for both falling 8% to a 1.2, followed by HGTV, which was up 10% to a 1.1 rating. Nine other networks averaged a 1.0 rating to round out the top 10.

On a 24-hour basis Nickelodeon comfortably outdistanced Disney Channel for top honors this summer. While Nick's 1.7 rating was down 6% from last year, it was enough to beat out Disney's 7% ratings uptick to a 1.5 from last year's 1.4. USA (up 18%) and Nick at Nite (down 7%) tied for third with a 1.3 rating, with TNT's flat 1.1 rating and Fox News Channel's 1.0 rating (up 25%) finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

As for the fall, Wakshlag said cable will continue to compete with the broadcast networks even during the fall and winter TV season when the broadcasters launch new episodes of their top shows.

“We've always competed with the broadcasters throughout the year, the question is what are the strategies to effectively compete,” he said. “Some networks may [use] original, primetime series; others may use acquired content or sports.”

HAPPY RETURNS
Top 10 returning summer original shows on ad-supported cable networks:

Program (season) Net Viewers
Source: Turner Research from Nielsen Media Research data. Summer 2009 (6/1/09-8/30/09). Based on most current data available: final live-plus-7 (6/1/09-8/16/09) and preliminary live-plus-same-day (8/17/09-8/30/09) Includes original first-run episodes. Kid's networks excluded. Three-telecast minimum for the summer.
The Closer (5) TNT 7.9 M
Burn Notice (3) USA 7.6 M
Monk (8) USA 5.6 M
In Plain Sight (2) USA 5.1 M
Psych (4) USA 4.6 M
Law & Order: CI (8) USA 4.5 M
Army Wives (3) Lifetime 4.3 M
Deadliest Catch (5) Discovery 4.3 M
Leverage (2) TNT 4.2 M
Next Food Network Star (5) Food 3.9 M

NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Top 10 new summer shows on ad-supported cable networks:

Program (season) Net Viewers
Source: Turner Research from Nielsen Media Research data, summer 2009 (6/1/09-8/30/09). Based on most current data available: final live-plus-7 (6/1/09-8/16/09) and preliminary live-plus-same-day(8/17/09-8/30/09) Includes original first-run episodes. Kid's networks excluded. Three-telecast minimum for the summer.
Royal Pains USA 7.1 M
Hawthorne TNT 3.9 M
Warehouse 13 Syfy 3.8 M
Dark Blue TNT 3.3 M
Drop Dead Diva Lifetime 3.1 M
Meet the Browns TBS 2.8 M
Real Housewives of N.J. Bravo 2.7 M
Make It or Break It ABC Family 2.2 M
Pawn Star$ History 2.1 M
Cake Boss TLC 2.1 M
September