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Summer Ratings Rock the Status Quo

9/03/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Although the calendar says fall doesn’t arrive until Sept. 22,
a summer of change is in the books as far as the Nielsen ratings
are concerned.

Fueled by NBC’s record-setting delivery of the 2012 London
Olympics, the four broadcast networks were not only
able to halt their typical summer slide, but they managed
to pick up total audience and share among persons 18-to-49
against cable in primetime, according to a Turner Research
analysis of Nielsen data.

In the daypart, USA Network stretched its winning
streak to seven consecutive summers, despite an almost 20%
drop in viewership.

Disney Channel pushed past Nickelodeon in total-day,
ending a reign atop this measure that the network had held
since 1993 (see “Nick Falls,” Aug. 27).

Disney Channel’s ascension here came despite its shedding
1% of its total-day audience to 1.95 million viewers this
summer (May 28 through Aug. 26), from 1.97 million last
summer 2011, spanning May 30 through Aug. 28, 2011, according
to Nielsen data.

Nick, though, saw its ratings freefall continue: the
Viacom-owned network, home to such venerable series as
SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer, lost a quarter
of its viewership, falling to 1.85 million from 2.45 million.

Cartoon Network picked up some of the kids’ slack, adding
6% to 1.41 million viewers in the 24-hour-a-day measure.
Only three other networks — History, Fox News Channel
and A&E — ranked in the top 10 in total-day amassed audience
gains, increasing their respective averages to 1.12 million
(up 14% from 981,000), 1.07 million (up 2% from 1.05
million) and 872,000 (up 8% from 810,000).

During primetime, USA kept the top spot with its host of
original dramas, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, Suits and newcomer
Common Law, which ranked among the top 10 new shows
with viewers. Nevertheless, the “characters welcome” network
wasn’t as welcome as it was in summer 2011, as its audience
declined 19% to 3.11 million from 3.82 million.

TNT benefited from having the medium’s top three new
series, Major Crimes, Perception and Dallas, as well as the
farewell run of basic cable’s most successful series ever, The
Closer
; the network placed second with 2.77 million viewers,
up 4% from 2.66 million last year, while Disney Channel was
third with 2.71 million, off 4% from 2.83 million.

History — which scored cable’s best-ever entertainment
performance with miniseries Hatfields & McCoys at the start
of the season, and with Mountain Men, which stands as the
season’s sixth-best new original series — was fourth, growing
13% to 2.55 million from 2.25 million. Sister service A&E,
augmented by Longmire, the most successful new series in
its history, rounded out the top five, scoring an 11% audience
increase to 1.80 million from 1.63 million.

TBS was actually the big
gainer among the group, as officials at the “very funny” network
were no doubt smiling
about 44% audience amelioration
to 1.72 million from 1.2 million.
New series Men at Work
and Sullivan & Son benefited
from the vast sampling and audience
uptick that syndicated
hit, The Big Bang Theory, continues
to provide.

Meanwhile, the London
Games — which became the
largest event in U.S. TV history
with some 219.4 million tuning
in some portion of NBCUniversal’s
coverage, while averaging
31.1 million viewers over 17
nights in primetime, making
it the most-watched non-U.S.
Summer Olympics since 1976.
— reshaped the usual summer
viewing patterns.

Through Aug. 19, Turner
research found that on a
weighted basis, NBC, CBS,
ABC and Fox combined to
register an 11% increase from
summer 2011 to a 14.6 rating.
ABC (down 11% to a 3.1), Fox
(down 11% to a 2.5) and CBS
(down 12% to a 3.6) all lost
share, but the Peacock grew
72% to a 6.2. Backing out the
effect of the Games from
July 27 through Aug. 12, NBC
would have fallen 3% to a 3.5
household ratings average in
summer 2012.

The top 10 cable entertainment
networks notched
a 5% increase to an 11.9 rating,
but ad-supported cable
dropped 4% to a 36.4 overall.

From a share perspective, cable held 71% of primetime
viewing this summer through Aug. 19, down from
74% the prior year, while the four broadcast nets were
up to 29% from 26%. Turner Research projected cable
would grow over the final week, resulting in a 72 share
for the full summer, versus 28 for broadcast.

It should be noted that in 2008, when NBC televised the
Beijing Olympics, broadcasters finished with a 31 share,
compared to 69 for cable, so pay TV improved its position
versus the last time the Summer Games inflated NBC and
broadcast’s overall seasonal performance.

September