This summer hasn't been as hot for basic cable networks from a Nielsen standpoint as the industry has lost household share ground to the broadcast networks, bucking a decade-long trend.
With five days left in the summer TV season, ad-supported cable networks have averaged a 65.3 household share, a three-tenths of share drop from last year's 65.6 mark, according to a Turner Research analysis of Nielsen data. With the numbers likely to hold up -- Nielsen's summer season closes on Sunday Aug. 29 -- it would mark the first time cable lost household share in a non-Summer Olympics year since the turn of the century, according to Turner.
On the flip side, the four major broadcast networks averaged a 24.2 share, up 2% from last year's 23.8 mark. ABC, benefiting in part on the strength of its June National Basketball Association post-season coverage, The Bachelorette and Wipeout -- posted a 22% share increase to pace the broadcast surge.
In 2008, the broadcasters posted a 9% summer share increase behind NBC's Michael Phelps-fueled Summer Olympics coverage from Beijing, said Turner. Otherwise, cable has netted gains each summer -- a season when the younger medium is often showcasing much of its top original fare, while broadcasters are presenting lower-profile slates -- since the start of the new millenium.
Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for TBS Inc., dismissed the cable's share loss as an isolated blip. He attributed the loss to a much slower news cycle compared to last summer, when the deaths of pop music star Michael Jackson and veteran Congressman Ted Kennedy stoked cable news ratings.
"If you grow 2% during the summer it's a great feat, but what does that tell you about next year?" said Wakshlag. "Part of [cable's decline] was the news environment -- if you pull news out, then you find that the numbers were pretty flat for cable. If you look close, networks that are investing in big-budget, top quality series were generally doing well."