ESPN Has a Ratings Ball

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Sports programming dominated the upper Nielsen echelons of ad-supported cable last week, driving ESPN to the top spot in primetime and to a second-place finish in total programming day.

Benefiting from the combination of the National Football League, college football and Major League Baseball’s playoffs, the total-sports network scored a 3.8 household average in primetime during the week of Oct. 3-9, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

That put ESPN well ahead of second-place, commercial-free Disney Channel. USA Network, bolstered by the return of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.’s Monday Night Raw, pinned down the third spot with a 2.2. Year-to-date leader Turner Network Television was fourth with a 2.0, while Lifetime Television was fifth with a 1.8.

Rounding out the top 10: Nick at Nite’s 1.6; Cartoon Network and Fox News Channel, both with a 1.5; TBS at a 1.3; and Spike TV with a 1.1. Finishing just outside the top 10 were MTV: Music Television, FX and Hallmark Channel, each with 1.0 averages.

Measured on a total-programming-day basis, perennial leader Nickelodeon edged ESPN 1.7-1.6, according to the Disney analysis of Nielsen data. Nick at Nite was third with a 1.3, followed by a 1.1 apiece for Disney and TNT.

Backing out the three hours of live Raw fare that marked WWE’s return to the USA ring after a five-year stint on Spike, ESPN tackled all of the other top shows for the week, headed by its coverage of the Cincinnati Bengals-Jacksonville Jaguars NFL game (a 6.7 Oct. 9) and the American League Division Series game between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (a 6.0 Oct. 7).

Disney’s Halloweentown High and Lifetime’s Haunting Sarah were the highest-rated movies of the week, posting a 3.6 (tie for 13th) and a 3.5 (tied for 15th) Oct. 3.

The third installment of the third season of FX’s plastic-surgeon series, Nip/Tuck, recorded the highest series performance of the week: a 3.5 Oct. 4 (a tie for 15th).