Narrowing the Gap

12/07/2003 7:00 PM Eastern

The broadcast networks didn't have much to be thankful for in November, when they took another trouncing from cable.

During the actual November sweeps period, ad-supported cable virtually tied the seven broadcast networks in terms of household delivery, finishing just a hair behind them, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Cable, which notched a 10% gain, averaged 32.5 million homes, versus 33.1 million households for the seven broadcast networks, which endured a 2.2% drop.

For the first time ever, though, cable surpassed broadcast in primetime viewership during the full November month, the CAB said.

"We're tracking cable over the long haul, and ad-supported cable has continued to grow," said Ira Sussman, the CAB's vice president of research. "This year there have been a lot of firsts [in terms of cable beating broadcast], and this is just another one."

From Nov. 1 to 30, ad-supported cable averaged a household delivery of 32.9 million homes, ahead of the 32.2 million home racked up by the seven broadcast networks, according to the CAB's analysis.

"In the Nielsen month of November, cable actually beat broadcast," said Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research for Lifetime Entertainment Services. "And during the sweeps itself, it was a virtual dead heat between the two. … Broadcast still had more homes than cable, but it was by a whisker.

"For that to happen during one of the three most sensitive times for broadcast is kind of a blow, and it makes you wonder what the rest of the season is going to be like."

Cable got a boost for the month of November due to a strong performance during Thanksgiving week, when it posted a 51.4 primetime share compared with a 45.0 for the seven broadcast networks.

"Every year broadcast is losing viewers, and they're losing young viewers faster than they're losing old viewers," said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc. "By next year this time — in sweeps, seven networks versus cable — this race will be over. This is sort of like the locomotive versus the Pony Express."

He noted that in November, six of the seven broadcasters lost viewership in the key 18-to-49 demographic. And CBS only saw an increase of one-tenth of a rating point in that age group, according to Wakshlag. By contrast, eight of the top 10 cable networks posted increases among that demo, he said.

And while the broadcast networks are complaining about losing men 18 to 34 — and blaming Nielsen's methodology for it — Turner seemed to have found some of them. In primetime in November, TBS Superstation saw its delivery of that demographic increase 12%, while Turner Network Television and Cartoon were up 10% and 3%, respectively.

Brooks blamed broadcast's dismal season in general for pulling down its November sweep numbers.

"The thing that's special to this season is the well-publicized stumble out of the gate of fall season for the broadcasters," he said. "This is a year where just there were no breakout hits."

In terms of individual networks, ESPN's football-laden lineup made it November's primetime champion, followed by kids outlet Nickelodeon in the No. 2 spot, according to an ABC Cable Networks analysis of Nielsen data released last week.

The sports network scored big with a 2.5 primetime rating, up 4% compared with November last year, according to ABC Cable's analysis. Nick posted a 1.9 rating, a 19% gain versus last year.

Nick got a rocket boost from its new series, the Rugrats spinoff All Grown Up, which dominated the list of top-rated shows in November. All Grown Up's debut Nov. 29, with a 3.8 rating, was Nick's highest-rated series premiere ever.

The show subsequently racked up a string of airings in the 3.6-to-3.2 range.

USA Network, ahead 13%, and TNT, up 6%, were tied for third place in primetime in November with a 1.8 each. Disney Channel placed fourth with a 1.7 rating, a whopping 31% advance from last November's 1.3. Cartoon, TBS and Lifetime Television were next, with a 1.5 rating, according to Nielsen. Cartoon was up 7% from a year ago; TBS saw a 15% increase; and Lifetime was down 17%.

Fox News Channel, which like all the 24-hour news outlets was down, followed. It posted a 1.2 rating, a 14% drop from a year ago.

Cable News Network averaged a 0.8, an 11% decrease, while MSNBC did a 0.3, down 25%.

November was a record-breaking month for several networks. Travel Channel achieved its best November primetime numbers, with a 0.4 (up 33%), as did Court TV, with a 0.8 (a 14% increase). Home & Garden Network and Food Network enjoyed their best month ever in primetime in November. HGTV scored a 0.9, up 29% from a year ago, while Food Network served up a 0.7, a 17% increase.

Cable Gives Primetime Thanks
Month of Nov. * Nov. Sweeps period **
*Average primetime household delivery for month of November, Nov. 1 to 30.
**Average primetime household delivery for November sweeps, Oct. 30 to Nov. 25.
Source: Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
Ad-Supported Cable32.9 million32.5 million
Seven Broadcast Nets32.2 million33.1 million

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!