Cable Gobbles Up Sweep

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Cable networks are establishing a Thanksgiving tradition — taking the November sweep from broadcasters.

For the second year in a row, cable won the November sweep period in primetime, outperforming the broadcast networks and continuing its years-long trend of gobbling audience share. Cable tallied a 53.1 primetime household share, up 3.1% from its 51.5 last year. That compared with a 46.6 for the broadcast networks, which were flat against last year’s performance, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

Sweeps are important because broadcast networks and their station affiliates use ratings from those four months to calculate prices for commercials.

WAKSHLAG’S RIGHT ON

When cable won the November sweep for the first time last year, Turner chief research officer Jack Wakshlag predicted broadcast would never win another sweeps again. And he’s been right so far.

“What’s going on is a continuation of what we’ve seen to this point,” Wakshlag said.

The last sweep period that broadcast scored a victory was back in February 2004, according to Wakshlag.

Broadcasters may have suffered this November because they didn’t do any of the big-event programming that’s usually reserved for sweeps, according to Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research for Lifetime Television.

“The [broadcast] networks may rethink to some degree their lack of stunting,” he said. “Stunts do create excitement, bring viewers back, give you promotional platforms. … You really need to do something to bring people in.”

Nielsen has different time frames for data for the November sweep period and for the month of November. This year, the sweep period ran from Nov. 3 to 30, while data for the month of November spanned Oct. 31 to Nov. 27.

In November primetime, ESPN was the No. 1-ranked cable network, with a 2.5 rating, up 14% from last November, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data. ESPN’s gridiron coverage — of the National Football League and college games — helped increase its ratings score. The top four cable shows in November were Sunday-night NFL games on the network.

USA Network was second, with a 2.3 rating, an increase of 21%. The addition of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night Raw, which returned to USA in October, added some muscle to USA’s November. The period was the strongest month in almost six years for USA among total viewers and the 18-to-34 and 18-to 49 demographics.

Disney Channel was No. 3 in primetime, up 19% with a 1.9 rating. The network benefited from several holiday stunts centered on Thanksgiving, including its “Stuffed With Stars Marathon,” a lineup of movies and one episode of That’s So Raven.

Turner Network Television was fourth, slipping 10% to a 1.8.

Three networks — TBS, Nick at Nite and Fox News Channel — tied for fifth place with a 1.5 rating. TBS was flat and Nick at Nite was down 12%.

NON-ELECTION BLUES

Without the benefit of the presidential election, which it had last November, Fox News dropped 21%, to a 1.5. Similarly, Cable News Network saw a 22% decrease, registering a 0.7 rating in primetime. MSNBC was flat, at a 0.4.

Lifetime and Cartoon Network each averaged a 1.4, declining 13% apiece.

Hallmark Channel and Spike TV rounded out the Top 10 in primetime, each with a 1.1 rating. They took different paths: the family friendly Hallmark continued to see ratings growth, increasing at a 22% clip; while male-targeted Spike dropped 21%.

FX, TV Land and The History Channel each racked up a 1.0 primetime rating. FX was up 11%. TV Land — aided in part by its acquisition of What’s Happening!! — posted a sizable 43% jump. History Channel was flat.

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