In terms of ratings, this summer is shaping up to be the best of times for cable and the worst of times for broadcast.
Cable is on track to set a record, while broadcast is enduring its steepest decline ever for the season, according to Nielsen Media Research.
As of Aug. 21, a week before the season officially ends, cable had garnered a 61.0 primetime share, compared with broadcast’s 32.1, according to a Turner Entertainment analysis of Nielsen data. By the time the summer is complete, Turner is projecting that cable will end up with a 61.1 share, compared with broadcast’s 32.0.
AN ALL-TIME LOW
Broadcast’s dismal showing marks an all-time low for the medium, its largest decline since 1997, Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc., told reporters during a briefing last week. In fact, this will be the fifth summer in a row that cable has outdelivered broadcast in primetime, Wakshlag said.
He also provided a report card on the top gainers and losers, in terms of individual cable networks, this summer versus last summer, in primetime for adults 18 to 49. Spike TV heads that list with a 60% gain.
“CSI is doubling last year’s time period,” said Wakshlag, who sees Spike facing a tougher time this fall. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation debuted last September, so next the ratings comparisons will be against the higher numbers that the show posted when it debuted.
“So the trend, the gains that Spike has had as a result of that program, will go away,” Wakshlag said.
In addition, Spike will lose World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night Raw, whose numbers rose this summer, to USA Network. He predicted Spike will see a “significant” ratings decline as a result.
“They’re walking away from it [wrestling] perhaps at the wrong time,” Wakshlag said.
AMC was up 24% in 18-to-49-year-olds this summer, which Wakshlag attributed to stronger, better-packaged movies.
“They’re bundling their movies in franchises that sort of make more sense together, so it’s not just a random movie every night,” he said.
Black Entertainment Television saw a 23% gain in the 18-to-49 demographic, due to its stronger movies, acquisitions like Girlfriends, and the “huge numbers” that The BET Awards did, according to Wakshlag.
Lifetime Television registered a 9% increase in adults 18 to 49 as a result of the strong performance of its movies and series like the new offering Beach Girls, he said.
VH1, A&E Network and Turner Network Television were all up 8% in the 18-to-49 demographic.
VH1 has scored not only with its original reality series but also with fare like I Love the ’90s, Wakshlag said. At A&E, movies and series such as Criss Angel: Mindfreak and Dog the Bounty Hunter are doing relative well, although returning series like Airline and Biography are down, he added.
TNT is having a record-breaking summer, with its sports and original programming such as the mega-hit The Closer, Wanted and Into the West — as well as sports — fueling its ratings growth.
Wakshlag also listed four networks that have sustained the greatest primetime losses this summer in adults 18 to 49. He preferred not to call these networks “losers,” but rather “the less fortunate, the ones who have lost viewers, because if I call them losers I will be accused of editorializing.”
At the top of that heap were sister services TLC and Discovery Channel, which were each down 19%. TLC sustained broad-based losses, with the largest drops coming on weekends, according to Wakshlag.
'MONSTER’ IS OFF
In terms of Discovery Channel, its “key originals are off,” he said, referring to series such as American Chopper and Monster House.
“When your growth comes from a certain genre or new kind of show, you’ve got to keep it up,” Wakshlag said. “You’ve got to replace those shows when they start getting softer with other successful shows, and they [Discovery] simply haven’t been able to do that.”
ESPN’s primetime audience of adults 18 to 49 has dropped 16% this summer. Those losses are broad-based, with drops in baseball, the National Basketball Association [including draft coverage], the X Games and poker shows, according to Wakshlag.
Finally, FX is down 7% in adults 18 to 49. One reason for that drop is that Rescue Me is not performing as well as Nip/Tuck did last summer, he said. FX this year opted to air Nip/Tuck in September.
“We’ll see if that was a good strategy,” Wakshlag said.
Rescue Me’s numbers are down from last year, and the new series Over There started off strong but its numbers have dropped, according to Wakshlag.