USA Network may have won the 2010 ratings crown, but ESPN was basic-cable's champion during the fourth quarter.
Paced by its Monday Night Football telecasts -- which accounted for 13 of the top 15 most watched shows for the quarter -- ESPN averaged 3.7 million viewers during the period of Sept. 27 to Dec. 26, an increase of 5% over fourth quarter 2009, according to a Turner Research analysis of Nielsen data.
ESPN has now scored five straight fourth-quarter titles.
USA finished second, averaging 2.9 million viewers, down 6% from the previous year.
Disney Channel posted a flat 2.6 million viewers during the period to finish third, followed by TBS, which was up 3% to 2.3 million viewers, Fox News Channel, which suffered a 4% decline to 2.3 million viewers, and TNT, which generated a flat 1.8 million viewers for the period.
History's 42% increase to 1.6 million viewers was the highest viewership percentage boost among the top 10 most- watched networks. Nick At Nite (1.7 million, down 6%), ABC Family (1.6 million, up 8%) and Cartoon Network (1.4 million, up 5%) rounded out the top 10.
Nickelodeon notched its 63rd consecutive quarterly total day win, averaging 2.2 million viewers, an increase of 1% over the same period last year.
MTV, led by its hit reality franchises Jersey Shore and Teen Mom, posted a 38% increase to 997,000 viewers during third quarter 2010, while AMC's breakout scripted drama Walking Dead helped that network generate a 15% viewership uptick to 1.2 million viewers.
Other ratings winners during the quarter included: Mun2 (90,000 viewers, up 88%); Investigative Discovery (446,000, up 79%); Nicktoons (306,000, up 47%); TV Land (910,000, up 42%); BBC America (117,000, up 38%); RFD-TV, up 26%).
Entertainment networks struggling during the period included: GAC (64,000, down 30%); VH1 (438,000, down 33%); Speed (187,000, down 22%); A&E (1.3 million, down 19%); SoapNet (271,000, down 15%); ESPN2 (728,000, down 14%); TWC (218,000, down 12%); and FX (1.3 million, down 11%).