Cable Gets 3rd-Quarter Grade: 60-Plus

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Three years after pushing past the 50-share mark, cable finished the third quarter with a better than 60 share of primetime viewing.

Ad-supported cable closed the book on its best-ever third quarter (June 27 through Sept. 25) with a 60.9 primetime share, according to analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That was up from a 56.5 share in 2004, and 51.9 in 2002.

Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research at Lifetime Television, said it’s “only been three years since cable crossed that [50 share line] and there’s more to come.” Asked if a 70 share will be in reach some day, Brooks replied, “Oh, yes.”

Brooks attributed cable’s ascendancy to its strategy of rolling out more original series during months when the output of fresh fare from its broadcast competitors remains spotty.

“Cable went after it right after the broadcast season ended [last May] and continued to roll out new and returning series throughout the summer,” he said, adding that the younger medium’s move toward more scripted fare proved a welcome respite for viewers, who seem to be tiring of the reality fare doled out by broadcasters.

The momentum extended into the first week of the new TV season, as cable’s 54.3 share topped the 45 recorded by broadcast from Sept. 19 through Sept. 25. That marked the second year in a row cable won premiere week: It was 52 to 46.6 a year ago.

On an individual basis, cable’s top-three performers in the third quarter all posted double-digit primetime advances.

Turner Network Television led the way, posting a 10% increase to a 2.3 primetime average from a 2.1 in the year-before period, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data.

Fox News Channel, aided by its coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating aftermath, was tied for second with Disney Channel, both with a 2.0 mark. Disney notched an 11% increase from a 1.8 in the third quarter of 2004, while Fox News recorded a 25% improvement. In the process, the all-news category leader saw its quarterly viewership grow to a best-ever 2.27 million average

USA Network, despite a 10% drop, was fourth for the span with a 1.8, ahead of Nick at Nite’s 1.7, up 6%. Lifetime placed sixth, even with a 1.6 mark.

Rounding out the primetime leaders: ESPN and Cartoon, despite a 13% drop apiece, were knotted in seventh with 1.4 averages; Spike TV (up 30%) and TBS (flat) were next, both with a 1.3.

Finishing just outside the top 10 were MTV (up 10%), Sci Fi (even), Hallmark Channel (ahead 22%) and regional network Turner South (off 8%), all of which closed with a 1.1 primetime average in the third quarter.

ESPN claimed the top three rated shows in the quarter — all National Football League games, topped by the 9.1 household average tackled by its coverage of the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11. TNT’s original series The Closer copped six places in the top 30, while the drama network’s presentations of NASCAR action dropped the flag on five top-30 finishes. Fox News had six of the quarter’s highest-rated programs, according to the Disney ABC Cable analysis.

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