Cable Slips But Wins 3rd Quarter

10/02/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Ad-supported cable took home the gold in its race for viewers with the broadcast networks during third quarter 2008, although it stumbled somewhat across the finish line.

Cable posted a 67 household share during for the quarter (June 30 to Sept. 28), well above the broadcast network's 33 share for the quarter, according to Disney-ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research.

Q3's Top 10
The 10 most-watched cable shows in the period from June 30 to Sept. 28:
Date Show Network Viewers
SOURCE: Disney-ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research
Sept. 15NFL: Eagles-CowboysESPN18.6 million
Sept. 8NFL: Vikings-PackersESPN12.5 million
Sept. 22NFL: Jets-ChargersESPN11.8 million
Sept. 8NFL: Broncos-RaidersESPN9.6 million
Sept. 4Republican conventionFox News9.2 million
Sept. 3Republican conventionFox News9.1 million
July 14Home Run DerbyESPN9.1 million
Sept. 1 The CloserTNT9.1 million
Aug. 4 The Closer TNT8.9 million
Sept. 7 2008 Video Music AwardsMTV8.7 million

But cable's share was a share point below the 68 the industry generated last year, while broadcast jumped up from a 32 share during third quarter 2007. TV historian Tim Brooks points to the record-breaking viewership for NBC's August coverage of the Summer Olympics as a contributing factor. Also hurting cable was the lack of new, original series during the summer, which have been a staple for several years.

“It would have been flat if the Olympics hadn't given a nudge to the broadcast networks,” said Brooks. “But you also needed TNT, USA or TBS to step up to the plate with the kind of [new, original] programming that they can do and have done in the past.”

On the individual network side, USA Network captured its third consecutive quarterly primetime-ratings crown in 2008, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

USA, on the ratings strength of five original series — Monk, Psych, In Plain Sight, Burn Notice and Law & Order: Criminal Intent — averaged a 2.2 household rating, an increase of 5% over a similar period in 2007.

“It was the first time in USA Network's history that we had five original series pumping at once, and happily … they were all hits,” said USA Network president Bonnie Hammer.

Disney Channel, last year's third-quarter champion, finished in a second-place tie with TNT with a 1.9 rating. Disney's performance was down a whopping 27% from last year's 2.5 rating, which was boosted by the 17.4 million viewers drawn by the August 2007 original movie High School Musical 2. TNT fell 5% from a 1.9 rating during second quarter 2007.

ESPN's first four Monday Night Football telecasts of the pro-football season — and the top four most-watched cable shows for the year — helped the sports network finish in a fourth-place tie with Fox News at 1.8, an increase of 6% from last year's 1.7.

Fox News' airing of the four-day Republican National Convention in August — two nights of which finished in cable's top 10 for the quarter — boosted the network's quarter ratings by 50% over a year ago.

Tied for sixth place with a 1.3 rating was Lifetime, TBS and Nick at Nite (up 30%), while Cartoon Network, Hallmark Channel (both flat) and CNN (up 57%) rounded out the top 10, tied with a 1.1 rating.

Along with Fox and CNN, news outlets MSNBC and Headline News also benefited from coverage of the presidential race. MSNBC posted a 60% primetime-ratings increase for the quarter (0.8 versus 0.5), while Headline News garnered a 25% increase with a 0.5 rating.

Other primetime gainers for the quarter include ABC Family (1.0, up 11%); Bravo (0.7, 17%); Oxygen (0.5, 67%); GSN, Investigation Discovery, Speed and The Weather Channel (0.3 each, up 50% each).

On a 24-hour basis, Nickelodeon continued its 14-year streak at the top, averaging a 1.7 rating, although it was down 6% from second quarter 2008. Disney Channel was second with a 1.3 rating, down 19% from a 1.6. Nick sister service Nick at Nite (1.3 rating), TNT and USA Network (tied with a 1.1) rounded out the top five.

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