Cable Is Raising the Roof

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This year has been a ratings watershed for ad-supported cable, capped by USA Network landing in the No. 1 spot by delivering the largest number of primetime viewers in the medium’s history, Turner Broadcasting System’s top researcher said last week.

Cable broke nearly a dozen records in 2007, prompting Jack Wakshlag, Turner’s chief research officer, to characterize the 12-month period as “transitional, transformational” for cable, with shows such as TNT’s The Closer and Tyler Perry’s House of Payne on TBS among those shattering former viewing benchmarks.

For example, USA has racked up the best total primetime delivery for an ad-supported cable network in history, with its average of 2,667,000 million viewers, according to Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data released last week.

Including non ad-supported networks, Disney Channel is No. 1 in primetime, ahead of USA with 2,702,000 average viewers this year.

In addition, 2007 marked the best primetime ever, in the adult 18 to 49 demographic, for 35 ad-supported cable networks, Wakshlag said during his annual end-of-year ratings briefing for the press at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan.

In another shattered record, Disney Channel enjoyed the best audience delivery for a movie in cable’s history with its Aug. 17 debut of High School Musical 2, which attracted 18.6 million viewers on a live-plus-seven-day basis.

Cable also saw its best audience delivery ever for a scripted drama, an original comedy, a football telecast and a post-season baseball telecast, according to Turner.

TNT’s The Closer ended the year with the best audience delivery for both a drama and series in the history of basic cable. The Closer averaged 5.9 million households, or 8.1 million total viewers.

Several TBS original comedies — House of Payne and The Bill Engvall Show — racked up the best delivery ever for basic-cable comedies, averaging 2.04 million and 2.02 million households, respectively.

“This has been a great year for comedy development in ad-supported cable at TBS,” Wakshlag said. “The broadcast networks struggling have the lowest number of sitcoms, or sitcom pilots, that I can ever remember. TBS went out and filled the gap.”

In sports, ESPN enjoyed the best football telecast in cable history, with its Monday Night Football contest between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 3, which drew 12.5 million households and 17.5 million viewers.

TBS scored the best postseason baseball-ratings performance with game four of the American League Division Series between the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees: 6.7 million households.

Two other Turner networks, CNN and Cartoon Network, also broke cable records. CNN registered the biggest audience delivery ever for a primary debate on cable with its Nov. 28 CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate in Florida, with 4.5 million viewers.

And Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block registered the largest young-adult delivery in cable history, with 432,000 adults 18 to 34 and 273,000 men 18 to 34.