Cable Beats Broadcast Again

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It’s all over, but the final margin: For the third straight year, basic cable will top the seven broadcast networks.

So concludes a Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data through Dec. 19. With one week left in Nielsen’s 2004 (according to the measurement company, the year ends the day after Christmas), Turner chief research officer Jack Wakshlag and his staff concluded that ad-supported cable had captured a 52.7 primetime share, an all-time high, up from 50.5 in 2003. Conversely, the broadcast networks, five of which were down or flat among key demos, according to Turner, saw their share decline to a low of 43.1, compared to 44.5 a year ago.

Turner projects when the last entries are made for Nielsen’s 2004, ad-supported cable, which is benefiting from the 10% rise to the 31.1 hours the average viewer spends watching TV per week, versus 28.3 in 1999, will control a 52.9 share, compared to 43.0 for the seven broadcast networks.

As for last week, ESPN, bolstered by a pair of NFL games, was the easy victor among basic-cable services. The total sports network averaged a 2.8 household rating from Dec. 13-19 in primetime, a performance that included a 9.5 mark for its coverage of the Baltimore Ravens-Indianapolis Colts game. Drawing some 8.4 million viewers for that Dec. 19 contest, the game attracted the sixth-largest audience in the medium’s history, and ESPN’s fourth-best mark ever. ESPN also scored with a 6.5 household rating the night before with the pro pigskin contest between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.

USA was second for the week with a 2.1 household average, ahead of the 1.9 recorded by Lifetime Television and TNT, which is on pace to wear the Nielsen ratings diadem for the year. Nick at Nite was fifth with a 1.7.

Rounding out the top 10: Cartoon Network and Fox News Channel both with a 1.6; ABC Family, buoyed by its “25 Days of Christmas” programming stunt, at a 1.5, along with Sci Fi Channel, which was lifted by miniseries The Legend of Earthsea on Dec. 13-14; and TBS and Disney Channel, each with a 1.4.

Hallmark Channel, also serving up a strong dose of holiday fare, just missed inclusion in this group with a 1.3.