Even after losing the benefit of the impeachment trial for
the latter half of the month, cable's primetime ratings rose 13 percent during the
February "sweeps," while the four broadcast networks slipped 8 percent,
according to Nielsen Media Research data.
On the individual-network side, the story was the
continuing surge in wrestling viewers and the surprising strength of Fox News Channel and
MSNBC even after the end of President Clinton's Senate impeachment trial.
But cable's gains were broad-based, with 18 networks
showing some ratings gain from a year ago in primetime, while only six networks lost
Continuing its ratings roll, basic cable scored a 23.2 in
primetime, up from 20.6, while averaging 2.9 million more households this February than a
year ago, or 23 million, according to Nielsen data supplied by Turner Entertainment
In contrast, the "Big Four" broadcasters averaged
a 33.1 rating, down from 36 a year ago. However, last February, the broadcasters enjoyed a
ratings lift from the Winter Olympic Games, which skews comparisons with this year. So Bob
Sieber, Turner's vice president of audience development, also ran a comparison of
Nielsen February sweeps numbers two years ago, when there were no Olympics.
Comparing this February to February 1997, in primetime, the
Big Four were still down 7 percent, while basic cable was up 24 percent.
Among cable networks this February, USA Network ranked No.
1 in primetime, while Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation tied for second
place, according to Nielsen.
The all-news channels have enjoyed a ratings bonanza with
their coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Senate trial. So when the trial
ended Feb. 12, pundits predicted that the news channels' ratings would plummet.
But for February, FNC's and MSNBC's primetime
ratings stayed the same as in January -- when the scandal was at full steam -- at a 0.6
and 0.4, respectively, However, Cable News Network's viewership dropped in February
versus January, to a 0.9 from a 1.1.
In fact, in the February sweeps, FNC repeated its January
primetime win against MSNBC in terms of ratings and households. FNC's 0.6 rating (up
100 percent from a year ago) was ahead of MSNBC's 0.4, and FNC had 222,000 households
compared with MSNBC's 188,000.
FNC's primetime-household viewership was actually
slightly up in February, to 222,000 households, compared with 216,000 in January, when it
had a full month of impeachment coverage. MSNBC's primetime-household viewership was
Bill Shine, FNC's senior producer for primetime, said
he wasn't necessarily surprised that his network's ratings stayed steady after
the impeachment trial ended.
"The people who have found us during the past 14
months have made us part of their viewership pattern," Shine said. "They're
sticking with us now."
As for the entertainment networks, USA drew a 2.6 rating,
up 13 percent from a year ago. TNT and TBS tied for second place at 2.0, with TBS up 18
percent and TNT up 5 percent. The Turner networks were followed by Nickelodeon (1.9, up 6
percent), Cartoon Network (1.6, up 23 percent) and Lifetime Television (1.5, down 6
In primetime, USA got a boost from programming such as its
coverage of The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which pulled a 3.8 rating over
two nights, hitting a 4.1 on its second night. USA also got a big boost from its WWF
Raw/War Zone franchise, which was up 68 percent over last February with a 5.7 rating.
And March 1, part of the February sweeps, USA's
Monday-night wrestling franchise hit a record as the highest-rated night of primetime
wrestling ever on cable, with a 6.3.
According to Tim Brooks, USA Networks Inc.'s senior
vice president of research, cable programming such as wrestling is luring the
hard-to-reach demographics of men 18-to-34 and 12-to-34 away from broadcast.
In February, the overall broadcast-network decline in each
of those two age categories was 13 percent. In contrast, USA increased its delivery of men
18-to-34 by 16 percent and of men 12-to-34 by 35 percent.
"February tells us that there has been a fairly
massive defection of young male viewers to cable from broadcast," Brooks said.
"They want edgier, dangerous kinds of programming, and cable brings that to
In February TNT's Passing Glory was basic
cable's most-watched original movie, with a 3.2 rating. And National Basketball
Association games on TNT averaged a 2.0 rating, a 54 percent jump from last February.
TV Land made the list of top-10-rated cable networks in
primetime for the first time ever, with a 1.0 rating, up a whopping 43 percent. TV Land
attributed its ratings gains to the addition of shows such as Dragnet, Adam 12 and
All in the Family to its lineup.The network alsodid several weeks of
primetime stunts to introduce Dragnet and Adam 12 to its schedule.
Among the networks that saw the biggest ratings gains in
February were Courtroom Television Network, up 100 percent to a 0.2, and Travel Channel,
up 50 percent to a 0.3. Court TV is enjoying a lift from its new lineup, which includes Homicide:
Life on the Street and weekend movies.
Fox Family Channel was among the big losers in February,
down 38 percent in primetime to a 0.8 with its new format.