For the second year in a row, Turner Network Television has
taken top honors as the No. 1-rated cable network in primetime, increasing its margin of
victory over USA Network in 1997.
'The gap is widening,' said Barry Koch, TNT's
vice president of research. 'Some people said it was a fluke [that TNT was No. 1 in
primetime in 1996]. The truth of the matter is that it was not a fluke.'
TNT posted a 2.2 rating in primetime in 1997, up 5 percent
from its 2.1 in 1996, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied by TBS Research.
It was followed by USA, which was flat with a 2.0. Then
came Nickelodeon, with a 1.9 rating, up 6 percent from a year ago. TBS Superstation ranked
No. 4 in primetime, with a 1.8 rating, down 5 percent from 1996.
In terms of total-day ratings last year, Nickelodeon
reigned supreme, far ahead of its rivals. Nickelodeon scored a 1.6 rating -- flat versus
1996, but with a good lead against No. 2 TBS, which was down 8 percent, at 1.1, and No. 3
TNT, at 1.0, down 9 percent.
Cable also continued to inch up on broadcast last year with
its gains on the ratings front. Basic cable's primetime ratings last year were up 11
percent, to a 20.4 versus 18.4 in 1996, according to Nielsen data from the Cabletelevision
Advertising Bureau. Cable's primetime share increased about 12 percent, to a 35.3 compared
with a 31.6.
'We made the double-digit growth rate that we were
looking for,' said Bob Sieber, vice president of audience development for Turner
Networks. 'And we'll probably do something comparable in the coming year.'
In contrast, the Big Four broadcast networks saw their 1996
primetime ratings dip almost 7 percent, to a 33.5 versus a 36 in 1996, the CAB said. The
broadcasters' primetime share was down roughly 6 percent, to 58 from 61.9.
In terms of individual cable networks, TNT's primetime
ratings were bolstered by its successful airing of theatricals such as The Shawshank
Redemption; original movies such as Last Stand at Saber River, which was the
No. 1-rated movie of the year on cable; and National Football League and National
Basketball Association games.
'It was a lot of different things working on many
nights,' Koch said. 'We had a pretty slam-dunk year here.'
TNT also crowed about its demographics. TNT was No. 1 last
year in primetime for delivery of adults 18-to-49 and 25-to-54, with TBS No. 1 in those
demographics for total day.
USA was flat in both primetime and total day last year.
But, bolstered by its reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger and the gains of its
Sunday-night block -- anchored by La Femme Nikita -- USA posted a very strong
second half in primetime, up 11 percent, according to USA officials.
That's why USA is upbeat about its prospects against TNT
this year, according to Ray Giacopelli, USA's director of research. 'We're pretty
optimistic that we can build on Nikita,' he said.
USA also has a strong slate for this year, including its
two-part Moby Dick in March and theatricals such as Casino and Private
Parts, Giacopelli said.
TBS had a tough 1997, with its ratings slipping in
primetime and total day. TBS ran into big trouble last year, when it began airing Coach
reruns, which underperformed and provided a poor lead-in for its primetime slate. TBS
replaced Coach at 7 p.m. with The Andy Griffith Show, and that show's
ratings are up 22 percent over what Coach was doing, according to Sieber.
'It's [Griffith] beginning to have an
impact,' he said, noting that TBS averaged a 2.5 primetime rating in late December.
The strong performance of Nickelodeon's Happy Days
and The Wonder Years in primetime, and its fall-1996 extension of its kids'
programming into primetime, helped to lift its ratings last year, said Cyma Zarghami,
Nickelodeon's general manager. For the 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. time period, Nickelodeon's
ratings increased 35 percent, to a 2.7 from a 2.0 in 1996.
'We've seen unbelievable growth,' Zarghami said.
Several networks enjoyed big double-digit ratings gains in
primetime last year versus 1996. Food Network, for example, was up 50 percent, to a 0.3
from a 0.2. The Learning Channel and Sci-Fi Channel were both up 17 percent, to 0.7 from
0.6 a year ago. FX, which added reruns of The X-Files and NYPD Blue to its
primetime lineup this year, was up 14 percent, to a 0.8 from a 0.7. And Cable News Network
ended the year up 14 percent in primetime, to a 0.9 rating from 0.8.
The 1997 primetime losers included: The Weather Channel,
down 25 percent to a 0.3; and CNBC and Black Entertainment Television, both down 20
percent to a 0.4.
In total-day ratings, CNBC and ESPN2 were each up a
whopping 50 percent, both to a 0.3 from a 0.2. TLC increased its total-day ratings 33
percent, to a 0.4 from 0.3.
Those that lost ground in 1997 in their total-day ratings
were: Prevue Channel, down 33 percent to 0.2; TWC, down 25 percent to a 0.3; and The
Family Channel, down 20 percent to a 0.4.