Cable, TNT Dominate Second-Quarter Ratings

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Led by Turner Network Television’s National Basketball Association playoff telecasts, basic cable easily trumped the seven broadcast networks in viewing share during the second quarter, setting up what could be a long summer for the over-the-air medium.

Cable finished the period of March 29 to June 27 with a record 53.2 share, up 4% over last year’s 51.2.

On the flip side, the seven broadcast networks — despite a bevy of new original series and specials — saw their collective share fall from a 43.4 in 2003 to a 42.4 this year, according to a Turner Cable Sales analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

“The story about 12-month, 365-days-a-year programming for the broadcasters has not gotten off to a good start,” said Lifetime executive vice president of research Tim Brooks.

Industry executives attributed cable’s success to the launch of new episodes from strong series like FX’s Nip/Tuck, MTV: Music Television’s Newlyweds and USA Network’s Dead Zone and Monk.

“There’s still a sense among viewers that basic cable is new frontier and new discovery,” USA executive vice president of series and long-form programming Jeff Wachtel said. “People are excited that they can go to new places and discover shows that they can love and come back to.”

HOOPS, THERE IT WAS

TNT, on the strength of its NBA playoffs coverage — which accounted for the top 10 highest-rated shows of the second quarter (an ESPN NBA telecast tied for 10th) — easily won the period’s primetime race, averaging a 2.4 household rating, up 9% from last year, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data.

In fact, TNT also took top honors among all the major demographic categories: adults 18 to 34 (610,000 of those viewers); 18-to-49-year-olds (1.35 million); and viewers 25 to 54 (1.41 million.)

“TNT will have the best second quarter for any ad-supported cable network in 18 to 34, 18 to 49, 25 to 54,” Wakshlag said. “This is close to a dominant performance for TNT in primetime.”

Cable shared the ratings wealth during the quarter, as six of the top 10 highest-rated networks registered improvement or were flat compared their year-earlier performances. Nickelodeon was second with a 2.1, up 5% from a year ago, while USA finished third with a 1.8, an increase of 20% from 2003.

Nick at Nite, in its first quarterly appearance as a standalone network, finished with a 1.7 rating, tied for fourth with Disney Channel, flat for the span. Beginning with its April month, Nielsen began ranking Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite as separate entities, even though they share the same channel space and are not measured by the same hourly standards that pertain to other services.

Rounding out the top 10 were Cartoon Network (1.5, down 6%); TBS (1.4, up 8%); Lifetime (1.4, down 18%); ESPN (1.3, up 18%) and Fox News Channel (1.3, down 35% as measured against the year-earlier period that included the Iraqi war).

Further, several networks set ratings records during the quarter. The History Channel set its highest average household rating with a 1.1, an increase of 38% versus the same period in 2003, while MTV posted a 22% gain to that level. For its part, Sci Fi Channel notched a record 1.0 rating during the quarter.

Other networks recording significant gains include: FX and Discovery (1.0, 11%); HGTV (0.9, 13%); Comedy Central and ABC Family (0.8, 33%); Hallmark Channel (0.8, 14%); Lifetime Movie Network (0.7, 17%); Bravo (0.5, 67%); WGN, VH1 and GSN (0.5, up 25%); and Speed Channel, Oxygen and Discovery Health (0.3, 50%).

Other networks posting quarterly declines include: TLC and A&E Network (0.9, 18%); Spike TV and Court TV (0.8, down 11%); CNN (0.8, 33%); TV Land (0.6, 14%); SoapNet and Black Entertainment Television (0.5, 17%); MSNBC (0.3, 50%); and TV Guide Channel, Toon Disney, and Country Music Television (0.3, 25%).

TOTAL-DAY TITAN

On a 24-hour basis, Nickelodeon finished first for the 35th consecutive quarter, posting a 1.8 rating, a gain of 6% over second quarter 2003. Nick at Nite placed second with a 1.3.

TNT was third with a 1.2, flat from last year, as was Disney Channel’s 1.1, which was good enough for a tie for fourth with Cartoon Network.

USA (up 13%) and Lifetime (off 18%) were knotted at a 0.9, according to the Disney ABC Cable analysis. TBS (flat) and Fox News (down 38%) were next with 0.8 averages, while ESPN, which grew 17%, rounded out the top 10 with a 0.7 mark.

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