Lifetime Television may have finished first in the second-quarter primetime ratings race, but basic cable as a whole was the big winner during a record-setting viewership period. Supported by outstanding performances from such original series as The Osbournes, The Shield, Dead Zone
ad-supported cable networks grabbed an all-time share record against the broadcast networks from April 1 to June 30. Cable averaged a 50 share, up from 45 percent last year, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
On the flip side, the broadcast networks registered a record-low 45 share for the quarter, down from a 48 share in the 2001 period.
Cable networks, which often wait until the summer to introduce new programming, have always enjoyed a strong third-quarter ratings advantage against the repeats that broadcasters have typically presented in the summer months. But industry executives said basic-cable's strong second-quarter performance came despite efforts by broadcasters to debut a greater number of fresh programs from March to June.
For instance, in the last three months Fox premiered American Idol: The Search for a Superstar
, while NBC rolled the dice with such reality shows as Spy TV, Dog Eat Dog
and Crime and Punishment.
But executives said viewers now look to cable over broadcast for fresh shows during the summer months.
"All the new programming that's on the networks doesn't seem to halt the erosion," said Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. chief research officer Jack Wakshlag. "The result is the worst quarter for the big three networks."
Added Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks: "The audiences have been conditioned to look to cable for new programming as opposed to the broadcast networks. The fact that [Lifetime] continued to show increases along with the other networks [during the quarter] is a great story for cable as a whole."
Female-skewed Lifetime continued its dominance of the household ratings race, finishing first for the sixth consecutive quarter — the longest run since Turner Network Television achieved the feat in 1996-1997.
Lifetime finished with a 2.1 household primetime rating during the quarter, up 11 percent from last year, according to the Turner analysis. Nickelodeon and TNT were tied for second with a 1.8 rating, while TBS Superstation, Cartoon Network and USA Network were knotted No. 3 with a 1.7 rating.
Rounding out the quarter's top 10 were A&E Network and Fox News Channel, each with a 1.1 rating, and ESPN and Discovery Channel, both at a 1.0. All but three of the top 10 networks posted rating gains or remained flat compared to last year — USA was down 6 percent, A&E fell 8 percent and Discovery Channel dropped 9 percent from last year.
Several networks posted new household ratings marks in the quarter. FX rode the breakout performance of its gritty cop series The Shield
to a network record 1.0 rating, while Home & Garden Television earned a record 0.7 rating during the period.
Other strong quarterly performances were posted by MTV: Music Television (1.0 rating, up 25 percent); Court TV (0.7, up 17 percent); Food Network (0.6, up 20 percent); ESPN2 and Hallmark Channel (both at a 0.5 rating, up 25 percent); and TV Land (0.8, up 14 percent).
"Cable is beginning to spread the [ratings] wealth across all the networks," Brooks said.
Networks that struggled during the quarter included SoapNet, whose 0.5 rating slipped 38 percent from last year, as well as The Travel Channel, VH1 and Bravo, all of whose ratings fell 25 percent to a 0.3 mark.
Nickelodeon, on the strength of its animated SpongeBob SquarePants
and Nick at Nite's
The Cosby Show, posted a network total-day ratings record for the quarter, averaging a 1.6 over the 24-hour benchmark. Lifetime and Cartoon Network tied for second place with a 1.2 rating, while TBS (1.0) and TNT (0.9) rounded out the top five, according to Turner analysis of Nielsen data.
While Lifetime dominated household ratings during the quarter, TNT and MTV were kings of the key demographic groups.
TNT, boosted by its National Basketball Association playoff coverage and original movies like King of Texas, finished first among adults 18 to 49, averaging 1.05 million of those viewers (up 5 percent from last year), and adult 25 to 54, reaching 1.1 million of those watchers (up 8 percent.)
USA, leaning heavily on the record-setting ratings debut of its original series Dead Zone,
finished second in both categories, posting an 11 percent increase among adults 18 to 49 and a 9 percent increase among adults 25 to 54. The June 16 premiere of Dead Zone, episodes of which USA will repurpose on sister service Sci-Fi Channel, drew a 4.7 household rating — the highest-rated debut for an original cable series.
Riding the phenomenal success of The Osbournes, MTV won the coveted 18-to-34 demo, attracting an average of 517,000 viewers, beating out TNT (452,000 viewers) and USA (434,000 viewers).
In the cable-news race, Fox News Channel maintained its ratings momentum, although Cable News Network posted strong ratings gains. Fox News generated a 1.1 rating in primetime for the quarter, up 57 percent from last year. CNN — buoyed by increased viewership for highly touted shows hosted by Connie Chung and Lou Dobbs — averaged a 0.8 rating, up 33 percent from last year.
MSNBC and Headline News finished flat for the quarter with 0.4 and 0.2 rating respectively, while CNBC's 0.2 rating was down a whopping 50 percent.
Fox, led by The O'Reilly Factor
with an average of 1.7 million viewers, held four of the top five highest-rated cable news shows slots during the quarter.
Overall, TBS Superstation's Atomic Twister
original movie and MTV's The Osbournes
tied for top-program honors for the quarter, generating a 5.9 rating.
Viacom Inc.-owned services represented nine of the top 10-rated shows for the month, with The Osbournes
series holding four slots, TNN: The National Network's World Wrestling Entertainment programs filling another four spots and MTV's 2002 MTV Movie Awards
finishing third overall.