Turner Network Television was the primetime ratings winner during the third quarter 2003, but several networks posted strong — and in many cases record-breaking — performances during an overall solid quarter for ad-supported cable programming.
Cable thrashed the broadcasters throughout the third quarter, as viewers flocked to cable-network programming in unprecedented fashion.
For the period of June 30 through Sept. 28, ad-supported cable nets garnered a 54.3% audience share. That's up 3.2 percentage points from last year, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
On the flip side, the seven broadcast networks saw their collective share fall 4.4 points during the quarter, to 37.1%.
Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said cable effectively thwarted broadcasters' early-summer attempts to stem viewership flight by launching new, reality series like ABC's For Love or Money.
"The broadcasters came on with a very strong schedule of originals in an explicit challenge to retake the summer," he said. "While it worked for them early, by the end of the summer, they were back to their old ways of losing audiences, while cable built momentum — which eventually carried over and helped cable increase its September viewership by nearly 6% over the year before."
Indeed, cable posted three consecutive 50-plus-share performances in September before falling to 47.5% from Sept. 22-28 — the first week of the new fall season.
Nevertheless, the 2.4-point share gap between cable and broadcast — which generated a 49.9% share during the month — was the smallest differential ever for the opening week of a new TV season, according to CAB.
For the third straight quarter, Turner Network Television, riding the appeal of Law & Order
and its National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing coverage, registered the highest average primetime household rating among ad-supported networks with a 2.1 mark. That marked a 17% increase over last year's 1.8 rating, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data.
Disney Channel finished second for the quarter with an impressive 1.9 rating, up a whopping 46% over the same period in 2002.
Lifetime Television placed third with a 1.8 rating, although it dropped off 14% from the prior-year period.
With a 1.7 rating, Nickelodeon (down 6%) and Cartoon Network (up 6%) finished in fourth-place. Rounding out the top 10: ESPN and USA Network (both down 6% to a 1.6), TBS Superstation (flat at a 1.5) Fox News Channel (up 9%, to a 1.2) and A&E (flat) and TLC (up 22%), each with a 1.1.
TNT remained No. 1 in primetime among adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, but finished second to MTV among adults 18 to 34, according to Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen data.
On a total day basis, TNT again reached more adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, but sister service TBS Superstation prevailed among the 18 to 34 audience.
Nickelodeon barely held off Disney to remain atop the total-day household ratings heap, averaging a 1.4 (down 13% versus its competitor's 1.3 (up 63%). TNT was the only other top 10 network on a total-day basis to post a year-to-year increase (22% to a 1.1). Lifetime and Cartoon Network (tied with a 1.2), TBS Superstation (0.9), USA (0.8), Fox News and ESPN (tied at 0.7) and TLC (0.6) all were flat compared to last year.
They set records
Disney wasn't the only network to post set primetime ratings marks during the quarter. Bravo, boosted by the remarkable success of its reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, experienced a 100% ratings jump to a 0.6 rating from the same period last year.
Sci Fi Channel, boosted by a 20% Saturday-night ratings gain tied to its original movie lineup, averaged a 1 rating in the third quarter for the first time in its history, according to the network. Hallmark Channel (0.7, up 40%), Travel Channel (0.4, 33%) and Food Network (0.6, up 20%), also were among networks shattering previous third-quarter Nielsen marks.
Other notable performances: FX and Court TV rose 13%, to a 0.9; MTV: Music Television rose 11% to a 1.0; Home & Garden Television and AMC rose 14% to a 0.8; SoapNet rose 40% to a 0.7; VH1 rose 25% to a 0.5); Animal Planet (0.6, up 20%) and The Weather Channel and Country Music Television were both up 33% to a 0.4.
Among the networks posting third-quarter losses were TV Land, CNN and ABC Family (all at a 0.7, down 13%) and Game Show Network (0.4, off 20%).
MTV's 2003 Video Music Awards
(8.1 rating), the Aug. 17 premiere of TBS Superstation's original movie Red Water (5.0), and its July 6 airing of the theatrical movie Miss Congeniality
(4.8) were the only entertainment-based shows to break through to basic cable's top 10 for the quarter.
The rankings were dominated by ESPN's NFL telecasts and TNT's NASCAR events, with the total sports network's Sept. 21 coverage of the Buffalo Bills-Miami Dolphins contest scoring a period-best 9.0 mark.