Cable Nets Pop a Cork After Record 2011

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Cable programmers have plenty to celebrate
this holiday season.

Basic-cable networks are on pace to establish an alltime
yearly household share high, generating a whopping
67% share of primetime audiences, while handling
the “Big Four” broadcast networks their lowest primetime
share ever at 33%, according to a Turner Broadcasting System
analysis of Nielsen data.

Several cable networks are expected to generate ratings
records in 2011 due to an unprecedented number of quality
scripted and reality series, documentaries and original
movies. Several programming trends emerged that helped
boost the appeal and ratings draw of cable-TV offerings.

Comedies bring smiles to viewers and cable networks:
While cable in recent years has excelled at scripted dramas,
comedies have been more of a hit-or-miss proposition.
But cable networks in 2011 found success with both
traditional sitcoms and dramedies — comedy programming
with underlying dramatic storylines.

The category jumped out to a record start in January
with the debut of BET’s The Game, which drew 7.7 million
viewers for its debut installment — a record audience for
a cable comedy-series episode. The show, which was cancelled
by broadcast network The CW in 2009 after three
seasons, also drew a record 4.6 million viewers for its first
season on BET.

FX capitalized on the dearth of comedy content on cable
and drew big numbers for several sitcoms, including
freshman series Wilfred, which debuted to 2.5 million
viewers, a network record for a comedy series, this past
June. Later that month, the network’s sophomore comedy
series Louie would net FX’s first comedy Emmy nomination
for Louis C.K.’s lead performance in the semi-autobiographical
show.

TV Land continued to tickle the funny bones of its target
25-to-54-year-old audience with veteran series Hot in
Cleveland
and new entry The Exes. TBS tapped prolific
producer/director Tyler Perry for a third series, For Better
or Worse
, which drew 3.4 million viewers in its Nov. 25
debut, while closing the book on Perry’s series House of
Payne
and Meet The Browns. Both shows ended their runs
on TBS in 2011, after more than 100 episodes each.

Fantasy/horror series scare up big numbers: The fantasy/
horror genre was big business for cable networks in
2011 as several scripted shows thrilled and chilled viewers
while drawing impressive ratings. Building off the continued
success of veteran thriller series such as HBO’s True
Blood
and Showtime’s Dexter, AMC’s zombie-themed drama
The Walking Dead returned in October for its sophomore
season and subsequently drew the biggest audience
among 18-to-49-year-old viewers in cable-network history.
The series’ season-two debut on Oct. 16 drew 4.8 million
viewers aged 18 to 49 and 4.2 million adults 25 to 54,
breaking the record held by USA Network’s The Dead Zone.

FX’s supernatural drama American Horror Story
touched viewer’s spirits to the tune of 3.2 million total
viewers for its Oct. 20 premiere and 2 million adults
18 to 49. Viewers also welcomed an alien invasion from
TNT: the Noah Wyle starrer
Falling Skies was the mostwatched
freshman series of
2011, averaging 6.9 million
viewers on a live-plus-seven-
day basis, according to
Turner Research.

Arguably the most acclaimed
new cable series
of 2011 came from the fantasy
genre. HBO’s Game of
Thrones
, based on George
R.R. Martin’s popular fantasy
books, earned two Emmy
Awards, a ton of critical acclaim
and a cumulative episode
average of 8.8 million
viewers, among the network’s
best for a freshman
series.

Starz and the BBC teamed
to develop a U.S. version of
the U.K. network’s popular
series Torchwood. Torchwood:
Miracle Day
drew 1.5
million viewers for its premiere,
second only to the 1.57
million who watched Starz’s
April 1 premiere of Camelot.

Networks roll film on
original movies:
A dozen
cable programmers unspooled original movies during
the year, up significantly from the number of networks
producing movies last year. All but abandoned by the industry
in recent years in favor of scripted series, original
cable movies found their way back to cable network lineups
this year — and discovered an audience appreciative
of their return.

Disney Channel’s animated Phineas & Ferb Movie
was the second-most-watched non-sports entertainment
show of the year, drawing 10.6 million
viewers. Hallmark Channel’s lineup of Christmas-
themed films is thus far averaging more than
4 million viewers, putting the network on pace to
have its best holiday programming performance
ever. And TNT’s return to the movie arena, after
a two-year hiatus with its TNT Mystery Movie
Night
series of original films adapted from popular
crime novels, has generated 1.2 million viewers
through the first four of six installments, according
to Nielsen.

Cable networks score big sports deals: While
cable-TV rights for the four major professional
sports leagues didn’t change hands in 2012, several
developments on the TV-sports front helped
make 2011 memorable.

Arguably the biggest and most surprising cablerights
deals were landed by Spanish-language network
Telemundo and Fox Sports, which scored Spanish- and
English-language rights, respectively, to the FIFA World
Cup soccer tournament through 2022. The reported $1 billion
rights deal for the 2018 and 2022 contests unseated incumbents
Univision and ESPN.

Fox Sports also pinned down the first-ever broadcasttelevision
deal with popular mixed martial arts franchise
Ultimate Fighting Championship. The groundbreaking
seven-year deal will give Fox four live UFC fight telecasts a
year and provide sister cable network FX with 30 live UFC
fights a year — most of which will come from live events
originating from UFC’s original reality series The Ultimate
Fighter
, formerly aired on Spike TV. Fuel TV and Fox Deportes
will also benefit from UFC-created content.

Time Warner Cable took a major step toward becoming
a player in the regional sports network business with
its 20-year deal to distribute Los Angeles Lakers games on
new English and Spanish-language networks to launch in
2012. Added to that, the proposed 2012 launch of a dedicated
national Pac-12 college sports conference network and
six regional networks based on the teams within the league
should make for a crowded sports network landscape on
the West Coast.

Reality is the new scripted for young viewers: Realityshow
celebrities were all the rage this year as viewers —
especially younger, 18-to-49-year-old viewers — flocked
to TV screens to witness the latest shenanigans from relative
unknowns-turned TV reality stars.

Snooki, Jwoww and the rest of the cast of MTV’s Jersey
Shore
proved that often bad and obnoxious onscreen
behavior appeals to viewers as the show was
the most watched series on cable this year, averaging
9.2 million viewers on a live-plus-seven-day basis, according
to Turner. Reality series ranging from Bravo’s
Real Housewives of Atlanta to History’s antiques/hidden
treasures show Pawn Stars to MTV’s sobering parenthood-
themed series Teen Mom represented half of the
top 20 most watched shows among adults 18 to 49, according
to Turner.

“Reality TV is the younger generation’s sitcom,” St.
Petersburg Times
media critic Eric Deggans said. “This
generation of reality shows are creating their own stars —
they’re cast very specifically and every character is very
distinct.”

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