With 11 of the top 15 networks registering double-digit gains, basic cable surpassed the broadcast sector in primetime viewership during April — the first time the medium has claimed a month during television's so-called regular season.
Basic cable's household primetime rating rose 13.7 percent to a 29.1 average during April, from a 25.6 the prior year, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
The industry's share expanded by 12.4 percent to a 48.9, and its delivery improved 17.4 percent, to 30.7 million.
Those numbers outpaced the 27.4 weighted gross average rating for the seven broadcast networks, which declined 7.8 percent from a 29.8 rating in April 2001.
The CAB analysis also indicated that the seven broadcast networks' weighted share declined by 8.9 percent, to a 45.9, while their delivery decreased 4.9 percent, to just under 29 million.
Although basic cable has defeated broadcast over the past several summers — when the latter is largely immersed in reruns — the April performance marked the initial time the industry finished first during the September through May period.
"This milestone makes us doubly assured of our prediction that in 2002-03, cable will surpass broadcast for the first time for the complete season," said CAB CEO Joe Ostrow.
LIFETIME: UP 16%
Lifetime Television was No. 1 among households during the month, averaging a 2.2 rating primetime rating, up 16 percent from April 2001. The women's network has led in primetime during all 17 weeks of 2002.
That leaves Lifetime four weeks short of matching USA Network's 21-week run in 1999-2000, when USA benefited from top-ranked World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. fare, noted Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks.
Nickelodeon was second for the April 1 to April 28 period, with a 1.9 household average, up 19 percent from the prior-year period, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen data.
TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television (both up 13 percent) were tied with USA (even) for third, at a 1.7 apiece.
Rounding out the top 10: Cartoon, down 6 percent to a 1.6; Fox News Channel (up 71 percent) and MTV (up 33 percent), each at a 1.2; and A&E Network and Discovery Channel, both down 8 percent to a 1.1 average.
"It was a good month for us and a good month for many of the bigger cable networks," Brooks said. "There has been talk about the bigger networks cannibalizing each other."
FOX TOPS CNN
In the all-news battle, Fox News Channel topped Cable News Network in ratings for the fourth month in a row, as its 1.2 primetime rating and 920,000 households bested its rival's 0.9 rating (up 50 percent) and 805,000 households.
CNN's NewsNight With Aaron Brown
made a comeback in the 10 p.m. slot, tying former CNN host Greta Van Susteren's On the Record
on Fox News, with a 0.9 average rating. Brown also pulled 46,000 more households than Van Susteren. But On the Record
drew 57,000 more adults aged 25 to 54.
MSNBC placed a distant third in primetime, averaging a 0.4 (even) and 296,000 households. It was followed by CNBC, down 25 percent to a 0.3, and Headline News, flat at a 0.2.
Among the other big household gainers in primetime during April: The Learning Channel, an 11 percent gain to a 1.0; TV Land, up 43 percent to a 1.0; ABC Family, ahead 29 percent to a 0.9; FX, advancing 13 percent to a 0.9; Court TV and Lifetime Movie Network, both up 17 percent to a 0.7; Food Network, gaining 20 percent to a 0.6; ESPN2 and Game Show Network, each of which registered a 25 percent increase to a 0.5; and Bravo, up 33 percent to a 0.4
On the down side in primetime: The History Channel and TNN: The National Network, both off 10 percent to a 0.9; and CNBC, Travel Channel and VH1, all down 25 percent to a 0.3.
Gauged on a total-day basis, Nickelodeon was the household leader with a 1.5 average, up 7 percent from April 2001. Lifetime was second, up 8 percent to a 1.3.
The Turner trio of Cartoon (even), TBS (up 11 percent) and TNT (13 percent amelioration) ranked third, fourth and fifth with a 1.1, 1.0 and 0.9, respectively.
Among adults 18 to 49 and adults 25 to 54, Lifetime was first on a 24-hour basis, followed by TBS and TNT with both groups.
Lifetime also led the way in primetime among adults 25 to 54, averaging 1.08 million of those viewers, according to Turner.
MTV, fueled by white-hot The Osbournes
and Real World XI, was first among adults 18 to 34, averaging 597,000 viewers. USA was basic cable's best among adults 18 to 49, grabbing 992,000 of those viewers on average — just 2,000 ahead of second-place TNT.
Episodes of The Osbournes
accounted for three of the four highest-rated shows of the month. The April 23 installment had a month-leading 5.9 household rating.
WWF fare on TNN claimed six of the top 10 positions, including the No. 2 spot on April 1 with a 5.2 (the other two Osbournes
episodes matched that mark).
Lifetime's original film We Were The Mulvaneys
also broke into the top 10, with a 4.7 on April 8.