Hit original scripted series, hoops playoff coverage and a rocking original tween-targeted movie premiere helped cable dominate the broadcast networks during the second quarter of 2008.
Cable networks earned a 59 primetime household share during the period of March 31 to June 27, up from a 57 share during second-quarter 2007. By comparison, the broadcast networks' 34 share was down from a 36 share in 2007, according to Turner Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
Overall, ad-supported cable gained more than 2.5 million households, while the six broadcast networks lost 787,000 homes versus a year ago, according to Nielsen.
“The only surprise is that the cable networks' growth was significantly higher than the broadcast networks' losses, so this goes back to the fact that more people are watching television than ever,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System. “The fact that broadcast network audience is down doesn't seem to be affecting the country's appetite for TV.”
As for individual services, USA Network secured the top spot among non-premium cable networks in primetime for the second quarter in a row, averaging 2.7 million viewers, up 6% from 2.5 million during second quarter 2007. USA pinned solid ratings from World Wrestling Entertainment's Monday Night Raw, as well as a strong debut from new original series In Plain Sight.
TNT, which counted nine of the top 25 programs for the month with its coverage of the National Basketball Association playoffs, was second with 2.4 million viewers, flat from the same period last year, according to Nielsen.
Despite drawing a quarter high 8.9 million viewers for its June 20 premiere of its original movie Camp Rock, Disney Channel finished third among cable networks, averaging 2.1 million viewers. That was down 8% from 2.3 million viewers last year.
In fact, Disney was the only network among the top five most-viewed cable networks during the quarter to post an audience loss. TBS (1.7 million, up 10%) and ESPN (1.7 million, up 22%) rounded out the list.
“Even the large cable networks — the ones that people keep saying should not be growing and should suffer from erosion and cannibalization — continued to increase,” Wakshlag said.
Top gainers for the quarter include Spike TV (1.3 million, up 16%); Nick at Nite (1.7 million, up 33%); ABC Family (1.1 million, up 16%); AMC (1 million, up 10%); Food Network (870,000, up 12%); Bravo (683,000, up 23%); Lifetime Movie Network (534,000, up 41%); and Versus (425,000, up 60%).
On the news front, Fox News Channel topped all cable news services, averaging 1.5 million viewers, but CNN (961,000, up 26%) and MSNBC (690,000, up 45%) posted double-digit gains, due mostly to its presidential primary coverage. Fox News regained the lead with the adults 25-to-54 demo in the period, after relinquishing the lead to CNN, which surged on its election coverage, in the first quarter. That marked the first time that CNN held that distinction with the news demo since 2001.
On a 24-hour basis, Nickelodeon finished at the top spot with an average of 2.1 million viewers. The kids-targeted network has now finished as the most-watched network on a total-day basis for 14 straight years.
Nick sister service Nick at Nite — on the strength of such recent acquisitions as The George Lopez Show and Home Improvement — finished second with 1.5 million viewers, followed by Disney Channel (1.3 million), TNT (1.3 million) and USA Network (1.2 million).