Basic Cable Poised to Win the Year

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With a handful of days left, basic cable is poised to win its first-ever traditional TV season.

Basic cable had posted a 49.8 primetime share through the 2003-04 season to date (spanning Sept. 22, 2003, through May 18), versus a 47.3 for the seven broadcast networks, according to a Turner Broadcasting System Inc. analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

This continued trend line represents a 2.4 share point advance for cable, compared with a 0.9 share loss for the broadcasters.

The traditional TV season ends on May 26. In 2003, cable won the primetime race for a calendar year for the first time.

Turner chief research officer Jack Wakshlag said basic cable was also nearing another milestone: Its first primetime victory in the May sweeps, when broadcasters juice up their programming to help affiliates establish advertising rates.

From April 29 through May 18, cable held a 49.3 share in primetime, up from a 46.9 last May, while the broadcasters had slipped to a 47.9 from a 49.4 a year ago. Wakshlag didn’t expect the tide to turn, noting that the series finales of Friends and Frasier were already done.

Cable had previously only won July sweeps periods, he added.

According to Turner, broadcast’s erosion has largely been across the board.

Collectively, during the season to date, the seven networks were off 4% in households, 8% among adults 18 to 34, 7% among adults 18 to 49 and 3% with adults 25 to 54.

CBS did notch gains of 2% in households, 3% among adults 18 to 49 and 4% among the older set.

Turner’s research also found that people are watching more television these days, with households averaging 57 hours per week through the season to date. That’s up from 52.8 hours and 52.6 hours, respectively, in the 1993-94 and 1998-99 TV seasons.

Even viewing among young males, whom many have said were abandoning TV for the Internet, video games and DVDs, was up to 25.2 hours, versus 24.9 hours 10 years ago.

Among individual category leaders, MTV: Music Television topped adults 18 to 34 in primetime with 511,000 of those viewers, trailed by Turner Network Television (472,000) and TBS (467,000).

TNT is setting the pace among adults 18 to 49 (1.09 million), adults 25 to 54 (1.16 million) and persons 2-plus (2.31 million).

ESPN was second among the Madison Avenue-coveted 18-to-49 crowd with 985,000 of those viewers on average, ahead of TBS’s 963,000.

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