2001 Winners: Lifetime, Basic Cable

1/06/2002 7:00 PM Eastern

It's official: Lifetime Television won the 2001 primetime ratings race, sweetening its triumph by tying ESPN for top ratings honors during the football-heavy fourth quarter.

More importantly for cable programmers, the past year was a watershed one in the ratings, as cable networks set a host of primetime viewership records.

Final Nielsen Media Research figures interpreted by Turner Entertainment Research confirm Lifetime's surprising ascension to the top of the charts with a 2.0 rating, surpassing such primetime heavyweights as TBS Superstation, USA Network and Cartoon Network, which tied for second with a 1.7 rating.

Nickelodeon finished first on a 24-hour basis, averaging a 1.4 rating, besting Lifetime's 1.2 figure. TBS and Turner Network Television finished first and second in the advertiser-coveted adult 18-to-49, 25-to-54 and 18-to-34 demographic groups in primetime.

The real story for 2001, though, was cable's continued ratings growth — at the expense of the broadcast networks.

Overall, basic-cable networks averaged a 26.6 primetime rating during 2001 (Jan. 1 to Dec. 30), according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That was up 9 percent from a 24.4 average in 2000 (Dec. 27, 1999 through Dec. 31, 2000).

The networks enjoyed an 11.2 percent rise in delivery to nearly 27.5 million households in 2001, up from 24.7 million in 2000.

Basic cable's share increased 9.2 percent, to a 45.0 from the 41.2 registered during the previous span.

Much of basic cable's growth came at the cost of the broadcast sector.

According to the CAB analysis, the weighted gross primetime-ratings average of the seven broadcast networks declined 8.7 percent, to a 28.1 in 2001 from a 30.7 the prior year.

Broadcast's share, meanwhile, slipped 8.7 percent to a 47.5 from a 52. Over-the-air television's delivery dropped 6.8 percent to just over 29 million households last year from 31.1 million in 2000.

Provided that the economy rebounds and such viewing trends continue into 2002, the divergent ratings should bode well for basic-cable networks in their quest to grab more advertising dollars in the scatter market and next spring's upfront selling sessions.

Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks, for one, predicted cable would continue its aggressive ratings growth in 2002, while broadcast's share would continue to shrink.

"I don't see any reason going forward why cable's ratings growth won't be as big or bigger in 2002," he said.

On the network ratings front, Lifetime added some icing to its yearly ratings cake, tying ESPN for the fourth-quarter primetime crown with a 1.9 rating, even though the sports network televised several highly rated National Football League games.

"The girls and the guys shared the set during the fourth quarter," Brooks said. "The fourth quarter is usually dominated by the sports networks, given the fact that football is the highest-rated sport on television. But this season has been a bit soft compared to last year."

While ESPN and Lifetime matched 1.9 fourth-quarter ratings marks, Lifetime was up 12 percent over last year, compared with ESPN's 5 percent slide.

The sports network did place nine of the top 10-rated shows for the quarter — all NFL contests.

Only Turner Network Television's Dec. 2 telecast of the original holiday movie Call Me Claus
managed to break through. It tied ESPN's Dec. 30 Washington Redskins-New Orleans Saints game for eighth place with a 6.3 rating.

For the quarter, TNT finished with a 1.7 primetime rating average and tied with sister network TBS Superstation for second place.

But while TBS sustained an 11 percent ratings decline, TNT was up 21 percent compared with a year ago.

Cartoon Network (1.6, down 6 percent) finished fifth in primetime. USA Network and Nickelodeon (1.5, down 12 percent and flat, respectively); Cable News Network and Fox News Channel (1.4, up 17 percent and 27 percent, respectively); and Discovery and A&E Network (1.1, flat and down 15 percent, respectively) rounded out the top 10.

Networks that posted strong fourth-quarter ratings gains included ABC Family (0.9 rating up 13 percent), MSNBC (0.8, 14 percent), TV Land (0.8, 33 percent), Lifetime Movie Network (0.7, 75 percent), Food Network (0.5, 25 percent), Hallmark Channel (0.5, 67 percent) and CNN Headline News (0.3, 50 percent).

Nickelodeon finished first in total-day ratings for the quarter with a 1.4, followed by Lifetime (1.2), Cartoon Network (1.1) and TBS Superstation and CNN (tied with a 1.0).

During December, ESPN's 2.1 rating edged out Lifetime's 2.0 mark in primetime. But Lifetime finished first in seven of the 12 months of 2001.

TNT, Fox News, CNN, ABC Family, FX, Court TV, Lifetime Movie, Home and Garden Television, TV Land, Food Network, Hallmark and Headline News all posted primetime ratings gains in December, compared with the same period last year.

Mike Reynolds contributed to this story.

Basic Cable Primetime Ratings Averages
Network 2001 2000 % Change
Source: Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data for the periods covering Jan. 1, 2001 to Dec. 30, 2001 and Dec. 27, 1999 to Dec. 31, 2000.
Lifetime 2.0 1.7 18%
TBS 1.7 1.9 -11%
USA 1.7 2.1 -19%
Cartoon 1.7 1.8 -6%
TNT 1.6 1.6 0%
Nickelodeon 1.6 1.7 -6%
ESPN 1.3 1.5 -13%
A&E 1.2 1.4 -14%
Discovery 1.2 1.2 0%
TNN 1.0 0.8 25%
CNN 1.0 0.8 25%
Fox News 1.0 0.7 43%
TLC 0.9 0.9 0%
History 0.9 0.9 0%
MTV 0.8 0.9 -11%
AMC 0.8 0.9 -11%
Sci Fi 0.8 10.9 -11%
Court TV 0.7 0.6 17%
ABC Family 0.7 0.8 -13%
Comedy 0.7 0.7 0%
FX 0.7 0.7 0%
TV Land 0.7 0.7 0%
Lifetime Movie 0.7 0.4 75%
Soap Net 0.7 n/a n/a

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