Cable Networks Pad Lead In Second Quarter

7/06/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

Bolstered by original series, sports programming and news, cable continued its ascension above the broadcast networks during the second quarter of 2003, reaching a 51.2 share of viewers.

Broadcasters — despite putting their best foot forward during the May sweep period, and making a more concerted effort to put on more appealing programming during the early weeks of summer — registered a 43.6 share.

Turner Network Television, supported by higher-than-expected ratings for its National Basketball Association playoff games, was No. 1 among basic-cable networks in primetime, while Fox News emerged the big winner in the post-Iraq War battle, widening its first-place hold among news watchers.

Cable, building on its 49.8 share in the second quarter of 2002, finished 7.6 share points ahead of the seven broadcast networks' aggregate during the period of March 31 to June 29, according to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. Broadcasters collected a 44.5 share during last year's second quarter.

Cable's advantage came despite broadcasters' efforts to offer fresher, reality-based programming to retain viewers after the traditional TV season ended.

No 'Survivors'

"The broadcast schedule has been loaded with reality shows, but nothing has broken out of the pack yet," Lifetime Television vice president of research Tim Brooks said. "Although they will have a lot that's original on the air, so far it doesn't look like it will be another Survivor

Industry observers said cable's quarterly performance was predicated on totally different factors during each of the three months. April was carried by coverage of the U.S.-Iraq war, May featured strong NBA playoff performances by TNT and ESPN, while June showcased new and original programming from several niche networks.

So what's in store for cable over the next three months? Most observers believe that cable — on the strength of its original programming — will continue its dominance over the broadcast networks.

"When it's all over and we're writing the story for third quarter, we're going to see another summer of cable gains," said MTV Networks executive vice president of research Betsy Frank.

"The way cable introduces shows in the summer and throughout the year — and how it schedules shows not just in primetime, but throughout the day — really gives it an advantage in tapping into the somewhat unpredictable viewing patterns that the summer represents."

TNT rode its enhanced NBA playoff coverage to a second-quarter household ratings win, according to an ABC Cable analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

The drama network, which offered more postseason pro hoops games — including exclusive coverage of the Western Conference finals — as part of its new $2.2 billion deal with the league, averaged a 2.2 rating for the period, up 22% over second quarter 2002.

TNT also finished first among all major adult demos in primetime, as well as on a 24-hour basis among adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54. The network finished second among adults 18 to 34, behind sister service TBS Superstation.

While TNT is confident it will wear its primetime crown through the summer, Brooks believes the race will get much tighter as cable networks begin to roll out new, original programs. He believes that several networks, including Lifetime — which premieres two new original series in August — have a shot at dethroning TNT.

Fox News held on to much of its post-Iraq war audience to finish second in primetime with a 2.0 rating, an 82% jump from last year. Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Lifetime Television tied for third with a 1.7 rating, but only the former posted a year-to-year increase (31%). Nick and Lifetime fell 6% and 19%, respectively.

Cartoon Network (1.6, down 6%), USA Network (1.5, down 12%), TBS (1.3, down 24%) and CNN (1.2, up 50%) were next. TLC (up 22%), ESPN (up 10%) and A&E flat) — all tied at a 1.1 — completed the top 10 for the quarter.

It's Nick's day

Although down 6% from the prior-year period, Nickelodeon fought off Fox News to remain atop the total-day heap, averaging a 1.5 household mark. Fox finished with a 1.3 rating, up a whopping 117% from 2003.

Several networks tied for top 10 slots, including sister services TNT and Cartoon Network (1.2 rating); Disney and Lifetime (1.1); CNN and USA (0.8); and MTV: Music Television, TLC, ESPN and A&E (0.6). TBS also made the list with a 0.9 rating.

TNT and Fox News also ruled the roost in terms of the span's highest-rated programs. Fox's war coverage helped the network place seven of the top 10 best performing shows during the quarter — including four editions of The O'Reilly Factor, according to Nielsen.

TNT's three entries were NBA playoff games, all from the Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs series.

Service scorecard

Several other basic networks also posted strong performances in the period. Court TV set a network record with a 0.9 primetime rating, up 29% from last year, while Hallmark Channel set a second-quarter mark with a 40% year-to-year jump to a 0.7.

Ratings kudos also go out to Sci Fi (0.9, up 13%), Home & Garden Television and AMC (both at 0.8, up 14%), MSNBC (0.6, 50%), SoapNet (0.6, 20%), and VH1, Travel Channel, and Country Music Television (each ahead 33% to a 0.4).

Networks that slipped with household ratings during the quarter included MTV, FX and Discovery Channel (each at a 0.9, down 10%), TV Land (0.7, 13%), Lifetime Movie Channel (0.6, 14%) and ABC Family (0.6, 25%).

Q2's Top Ten
The NBA playoffs propelled TNT top the top ratings spot for the quarter. A look at the top 10-rated shows for the period.
Program Network Date Rating
*Source: ABC Cable Network Group
On the Record Fox News 4/7/03 6.3
NBA: Lakers-Spurs TNT 5/13/03 6.2
Operation Iraqi Freedom Fox News 4/9/03 6.2
The Fox Report Fox News 4/1/03 5.8
Operation Iraqi Freedom Fox News 4/7/03 5.7
NBA: Lakers-Spurs TNT 5/5/03 5.6
The O'Reilly Factor Fox News 4/3/03 5.6
NBA: Lakers-Spurs TNT 5/7/03 5.3
The O'Reilly Factor Fox News 4/9/03 5.3
The O'Reilly Factor Fox News 4/7/03 5.3
The O'Reilly Factor Fox News 4/1/03 5.3
Special Report/Cheney-Iraq Fox News 4/9/03 5.3

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