Basic cable started 2005 off on a solid footing, easily topping broadcast in terms of primetime share. Basic notched a 52.4 share in primetime, versus a 45.8 for the seven broadcast networks from Dec. 27, 2004, through Jan. 30, according to a Lifetime Television analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
“We’re off. Cable rolled out new series and brought back fresh episodes of established hits like Monk and Strong Medicine,” said TV historian and Lifetime Television executive vice president of research Tim Brooks.
Brooks acknowledged the strength of new series Numb3rs and Medium, but those replacements didn’t have the numbers or the buzz of past broadcast January replacement series, like The Apprentice or Joe Millionaire. All of that sets the stage for the February sweeps — the one month of the year in which cable has yet to topple its broadcast competitors. Last year, broadcast, armed with CBS’s presentation of Super Bowl XXXVIII, won the period with a 49.3 share, 1.1 points higher than cable.
Not dismissing the power of the big game on Fox — or that network’s other juggernaut, American Idol — Brooks said cable’s commitment to branded programming might spring an upset this month.
“It could happen. Things were very narrow last year,” he said, before noting that cable’s chances could be hamstrung by only a handful of new series entries, including E! Entertainment Television’s Gastineau Girls or Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken.
Among individual channels, TNT topped the primetime household charts, scoring a 10% rise to a 2.2 rating, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data. The drama network’s rise pushed it past January 2004 leader USA Network, which sustained a 5% drop, to a 2.0 average.
Lifetime — continuing the momentum it built in the fourth-quarter with its weeknight-movie gambit — ranked third, up 6% to a 1.8. Following were Nick at Nite and Disney Channel (down 11%), both with a 1.7. Rounding out the top 10: ESPN and Cartoon Network, ahead 23% and 14%, respectively, to a 1.6 apiece; TBS, down 12% to a 1.5; Fox News Channel, a 17% increase to a 1.4; and Spike TV, up 33% to a 1.2.
Of the networks tracked by Disney ABC Cable, 21 posted gains, 16 sustained erosion and 17 remained even with 2004. (Eight others didn’t have year-earlier comparisons.)