A Year of 'Bests’

12/28/2007 7:00 PM Eastern

Any way you slice it,
2007 is turning out to be cable’s best year ever, with the medium breaking records at every turn.

Year-to-date as of Dec. 23, ad-supported cable maintained its lead over broadcast, averaging a 57.2 share of primetime viewing, up 3% from 55.6 in 2006, according to a Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data released last week.

In contrast, the Big Four broadcast networks were averaging a 35.0 share year to date, a 7% drop from 37.6 in 2006, Turner said.

Season-to-date versus last season, the six broadcast networks have lost 1.4 million households in primetime, according to Turner. That is the equivalent of Denver, the No. 18 TV market.

“Overall, it was a good year for cable,” said Lifetime Television executive vice president of research Mike Greco. “And then when you look at the broadcast season so far, that’s kind of continued to trend itself out. For the broadcast networks, everybody is down pretty significantly, except for Fox, largely driven by House.”

In fact, 2007 has been a “transformational year” for cable, according to Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System. Cable posted records — and “bests” — in nearly a dozen categories, including the best primetime delivery for any cable network ever and best movie delivery in the history of cable, namely Disney Channel’s High School Musical 2. Its Aug. 17 premiere drew 18.6 million viewers based on live-plus-seven-day data.

“Over 30 cable networks had their best year ever this year,” Wakshlag said.

Now viewers “are coming to cable for a variety of different types of programming, different genres of programming, from scripted drama to reality to sports to movies,” according to Greco. “And it’s not a one-note, cheap programming arena at all.”

With the TV writers’ strike set to enter its ninth week, cable is well positioned to benefit, since broadcast is being forced to air more reality fare and reruns, according to Greco.

“It really bodes well for overall cable,” he said. “It’s almost like cable is going to get two summers, in a way, with broadcast networks going into repeats. And viewers probably are not going to watch less television. They’re going to surf more and sample more and [they’re] turning to cable to sample these shows. I think Lifetime is pretty well positioned for that.”

Lifetime is debuting new shows How to Look Good Naked, Top This Party and Matched in Manhattan.

With a just a week left in the year, Disney Channel was No. 1 in the primetime ratings for cable in 2007, a whisker ahead of USA Network, according to a Disney-ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen data. Disney Channel has a 2.2 primetime rating, averaging 2,693,000 total viewers, the best total delivery in the history of cable.

But in a real cliffhanger, USA is behind by a mere 15,000, with 2,678,000 overall viewers and a 2.1 rating.

Nielsen considers the year done on Dec. 30, leaving a week of ratings data that needs to be added for the final 2007 figures.

Last year, USA and Disney Channel tied in primetime ratings, each with a 2.2, but USA won the first-place crown by having the most actual households and viewers.

In terms of primetime ratings, Disney Channel is flat in 2007 versus last year, while USA is down 5%.

USA president Bonnie Hammer said that the network has had a great year, even if Disney maintains its small lead and remains No. 1 in total households.

“In our demographics, regardless of where they [Disney Channel] have households, we still win,” Hammer said. “For us it’s still a sweep, no matter how you chop it.”

Five 'Bests’ in ’07
Several telecasts in 2007 ended up being the most-viewed in cable-network history in their categories, including:
Source: Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
Best movie delivery:
High School Musical 2 premiere, 18.6 million viewers, Aug. 17 (plus seven-day recorded views).
Best football telecast: ESPN’s NFL Patriots-Ravens
Monday Night Football game, 17.5 million viewers, Dec. 3.
Best postseason baseball telecast: TBS’s MLB Division Series, Indians-Yankees Game 4, 9.2 million viewers, Oct. 8.
Best drama delivery and best series delivery, season average: TNT’s The Closer, 8.1 million viewers.
Best presidential primary debate: The CNN/YouTube GOP debate, 4.5 million viewers, Nov. 28.