Football’s End Helped USA Depose ESPN

3/05/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

USA Network in February put
the brakes on ESPN’s five-month run
as the most-watched basic-cable network
in primetime.

The “Characters Welcome” network
drew 2.9 million viewers to top all adsupported
cable networks during the
period of Jan. 30-Feb. 26, although its
monthly audience was down 8% compared
to the February 2011, according
to a Disney-ABC Television Group
analysis of Nielsen data.

USA’s win stops ESPN’s consecutive
monthly primetime ratings winning
streak at five. The streak began
this past September and was fueled
mostly by the sports network’s NFL
Monday Night Football telecasts and
its college football Bowl Championship
Series (BCS) coverage.

Disney Channel averaged 2.3 million
viewers — down 12% compared to
a year prior — to finish second, ahead
of third-place History’s tally of 2.1 million
viewers (up 5%).

TBS rode the popularity of off-network
sitcom The Big Bang Theory to a
fourth-place finish, posting a 34% increase
to 1.96 million viewers. The
“very funny” network also finished
as the most-watched network for the
month, among adults 18-49 and 18-34,
according to Nielsen.

The remaining top 10 most-watched primetime networks
include TNT (1.93 million viewers, down 15%);
Fox News (1.9 million, flat); ESPN (1.5 million, down
4%); A&E (1.4 million, down 4%): Syfy (1.4 million, up
12%): and FX (1.3 million, down 18%).

Nickelodeon barely held off Disney Channel to remain
the top-viewed network on a total-day basis and among
the target kids 2-11 demo. Nickelodeon posted a 24% decline
in February in averaging 1.7 million viewers, but it
was enough to best Disney’s 1.6 million audience average,
which was down 8% compared to a year ago. USA Network
(1.3 million, down 9%), Adult Swim (a flat 1.2 million) and
Cartoon Network (1.1 million, up 11%) rounded out the top
five networks in the total-day category.

Nickelodeon — which has held the top kids’ spot for
some 16 years — tallied 946,000 watchers ages 2 to 11 on
average over the 24-hour span, versus
931,000 for Disney Channel.

Three episodes of AMC’s zombie
thriller The Walking Dead placed among
the top 10 most-watched shows of the
month, including an industry-high 8.1
million viewers for its Feb. 12 return.
History’s Pawn Stars also had three episodes
in the top 10 for the month, while
the network’s American Pickers also
landed among the most-watched shows
in February.

Inspiration-themed network GMC
drew the biggest total audience gains
during the month, posting a 58% audience
increase to 139,000 viewers in
February. Other networks garnering
withFebruary primetime viewership
returns included Nat Geo (186,000, up
51%); Sprout (185,000, up 49%); NBA TV
(170,000, up 39%); ESPNews (110,000 ,up
39%); DIY Network (145,000, up 37%);
Disney XD (416,000, up 32%); and VH1
(553,000, up 31%).

Networks struggling through the month
included Nick at Nite (858,000, down
45%); The Weather Channel (188,000,
down 42%); SoapNet (169,000, down
39%); Cloo (90,000, down 34%); TeenNick
(127,000, down 27%); and Hallmark Movie
Channel (167,000, down 27%).