Cable Keeps Its Crown


The 2008-09 television season is coming to a close, which means that after nine months of celebrity weight-loss/dance/rehab reality shows, bad sci-fi/alternative-universe series, and farewell episodes for ER, Battlestar Galactica and The Shield, ratings-numbers crunchers will be hard at work determining who the big winners were for the season.

When the smoke clears, it’ll be pretty apparent who dominated the recent television season … the cable industry, of course. And the race really wasn’t that close.

With one week left in the broadcast TV season, ad-supported cable networks are averaging a 58.5 share of television households compared to the four major broadcast networks, which are averaging a 36.8 share, according to Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

In fact, cable networks are averaging a record 54 million viewers during the 2008-09 season, a hefty increase from the 51 million viewers cable drew during the writer’s strike-tinged 2007-08 campaign.

Fueled by quality, award-winning shows like TNT’s The Closer (cable’s most watched series of all time) and newcomers like ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager (cable’s 2008-09 top freshman series), the industry continues to draw more viewers away from the traditional broadcast networks.

In other words, cable rocks with viewers.

The impending digital transition could give cable an even bigger boost as many analog TV users switch to cable to get both their digital broadcast and cable signals. Turner is projecting a potential 8% to 10% drop in adults 18-49 watching primetime broadcast television next year.

That’s not to say that the cable should go into a home-run trot heading into next season.

While cable continues to increase its share over the broadcast networks, it still lags behind the broadcasters in drawing primetime ad dollars. Despite pulling in nearly a 60% share of overall viewers, cable networks are still only pulling 29% of ad dollars during the key 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time period, compared to the broadcast nets’ 71%.

Still, cable will be able to wear its 2008-09 TV-season crown proudly as it heads into its own sweeps-like period during the summer months, with an eye toward continuing its dominance over the broadcast networks when the new television season begins this fall.