Cable Rides Q2 Ratings Wave

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Record-setting sports events and late-breaking entertainment stories highlighted a strong second-quarter ratings performance for cable programming.

While TNT and ESPN’s National Basketball Association playoff coverage dominated the first half of the quarter, it was shows focusing on breaking entertainment-based events that drew the most viewers during the period of March 30 to June 28, according to a Disney/ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

The June 28 BET Awards ’09 show, which featured a tribute to pop star Michael Jackson, who died June 25, topped the ratings charts for the quarter, drawing 10.65 million viewers.

The controversy surrounding the marriage of reality-TV parents Jon and Kate Gosselin proved to be ratings gold for TLC. The network’s June 22 Jon & Kate Plus 8 episode — in which the couple announced their split — drew 10.6 million for second place.

The show’s May 25 fifth-season premiere finished third with 9.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

Three telecasts from TNT’s record-setting coverage of the Orlando Magic-Cleveland Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals series and three telecasts from ESPN’s Los Angeles Lakers-Denver Nuggets NBA Western Conference finals took six of the top 10 slots among the most watched shows of the quarter.

Overall, USA Network finished the quarter as the most-watched cable network, averaging a 2.4 primetime household rating, up 14% over last year’s 2.1 rating, according to Nielsen. USA easily outdistanced TNT, which finished second with a 2.0 rating, up 5% from second-quarter 2008.

Disney Channel was third with a flat 1.8 rating, while Fox News finished fourth with a 1.7 rating, up 31% from second quarter 2008, and Nick At Nite — which moves its primetime start to 8 p.m. from 9 p.m. this week (starting July 5) averaged a 1.3 rating, which was down 7% from last year.

Nick at Nite, which moves its primetime start to 8 p.m. from 9 p.m. this week (starting July 5), averaged a 1.3 rating, which was down 7% from second quarter 2008 to finish in fifth place for the month.

Networks posting double-digit gains for the quarter include TLC (0.9, up 29%); Discovery Channel (1.1, 22%); FX (1.0, up 11%); BET (0.7, up 40%); Food Network (0.8, up 14%); Noggin (0.7, up 40%); Bravo (0.7, up 17%); and CMT (0.4, up 33%).

Networks suffering noticeable declines include Lifetime (0.9, 25%), Spike TV (0.8, 27%); MTV (0.6, 25%) and Bio Channel (0.2, 33%).

Disney Channel’s June 26 airing of its original movie Princess Protection Program was the most watched scripted show of the quarter, garnering 8.5 million viewers.

On the cable news front, Fox News pulled away from the competition, averaging a 1.7 rating, easily besting second-place CNN, which averaged a 0.7 primetime rating. MSNBC was third with a 0.7 rating, while Headline News (0.5) and CNBC (0.2) rounded out the list.