Basic cable kicked off the summer on a hot streak, on track to break records. During June, cable hit a landmark 60 share of primetime viewing, nearly double that of broadcast.
Original scripted fare that sizzled — such as Turner Network Television's new hit drama The Closer and miniseries Into the West, as well as USA Network's The 4400 — helped bulk up cable's overall second-quarter numbers versus its older competitor.
Ad-supported cable racked up a 54.9 primetime household share in the second quarter, compared with a 41.4 for the seven broadcast networks, according to a Turner Entertainment analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That compares with cable's 53.2 in the year-ago quarter, and broadcast's 41.8.
And based on the medium's June's performance, cable officials are already predicting it is on pace to scorch broadcast. For the first four weeks of summer, May 30 to June 26, cable's primetime share was at all-time high of 60.2, versus a 34.1 for broadcast, according to Turner.
“For the third quarter and summer, you're going to see record-breaking cable performance,” Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc., said last week. “Cable is at an all-time high, broadcast is at all-time low, even though it already tried to roll out a bunch of new product.”
In terms of individual cable networks in the second quarter, TNT, propelled by the National Basketball Assoication playoffs and premieres of fare like The Closer and Into the West, landed in first place for primetime. It posted a 2.4 rating, flat compared with the year-ago period, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks analysis of Nielsen data.
But TNT's big gains came in terms of key demographics. The “We Know Drama” network in June out-delivered The WB Network and UPN for the month among adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, persons 2-plus and households.
Turner said the premiere weekend of Into the West attracted 34.2 million unduplicated viewers from June 10 to 12.
In the second quarter, TNT was followed by USA, with a 1.9 rating, up 6% from last year's 1.8. Nick at Nite and Disney Channel tied for third place in primetime with a 1.8 rating, each registering a 6% gain from last year's 1.7.
They were followed by Lifetime Television and Cartoon Network, each with a 1.5 rating. Lifetime saw a 7% increase, while Cartoon was flat.
TBS, flat, and Fox News Channel, up 8%, each tallied a 1.4 rating.
Spike TV racked up a 1.3 rating, a sizable 63% hike from last year's 0.8, while ESPN and Turner South each scored a 1.1 rating, with the sports service dropping 15% and the regional up 120%.
“It's kind of striking that virtually nine out of the 10 top cable networks are even or up from last year,” said Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research for Lifetime Entertainment Services.
Broadcast's first-run programming is barely outperforming its reruns this summer to date, Wakshlag said. For the Big Four, repeats earned just a 2.1 among viewers 18 to 49; first-run shows drew a 2.3, according to Turner.
Brooks pointed out that while cable's scripted programming is soaring, most of broadcast's new reality shows, with the exception of ABC's Dancing With The Stars, haven't performed well.
“The biggest news is how cable has snatched the scripted ball from broadcast, because broadcast was the one last fall that showed what a pent-up demand there was for scripted programming, with Lost and Desperate Housewives and Medium,” Brooks said.