ESPN Wears Weekly Ratings Crown With 'MNF' Doubleheader


When it came to primetime last week, pro football trumped Barack Obama at the top of the cable ratings.

ESPN, lifted by the return of Monday Night Football, claimed cable’s ratings crown, averaging a 2.6 household rating and 2.53 million viewers on average from Sept. 8 through Sept. 14, according to a Disney Cable Networks analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. The total sports network was boosted by the return of cable’s top franchise, as the Sept. 8 season-opening MNF doubleheader played big: the Green Bay-Minnesota game tackled 12.5 million viewers and Denver-Oakland 9.67 million.

Those contests, up 12.8% and 13.7%, respectively, over the corresponding games in 2007, marked cable’s biggest audiences of the year until the Sept. 15 MNF matchup between Dallas and Philadelphia became the medium’s most-watched live show ever with 18.6 million viewers.

Fox News Channel was second last week with a 2.3 household ratings average and nearly 2.77 million viewers in primetime. The cable news leader was buoyed by a trio of interview segments with Democratic Presidential nominee Obama on The O’Reilly Factor. Those shows grabbed 4.57 million viewers (10th highest for the week) on Sept. 8, followed by 4.3 million (13th) and 4.23 million (15th) on the next two nights. The Factor ’s Friday show scored with 4.15 million watchers (17th).

USA Network’s bounty of original series, Monk (5.02 million), Burn Notice (4.77 million) and Psych (4.02 million), combined with its WWE Monday Night Raw franchise and newly stripped episodes of House (2.95 million), to secure a 2.2 household rating and 2.94 million viewers on average for cable’s 2008 leader. USA officials said House's premiere performance was the best ever for the network with a stripped series.

TNT, benefiting from The Closer (7.44 million to rank third) and Raising The Bar (seventh with 4.98 million) on Sept. 8, was fourth with a 1.9 average and some 2.33 million viewers, according to Nielsen data.

Disney Channel, topped by a Sept. 14 Hannah Montana installment that drew 4.61 million viewers, good for 10th for the week, finished fifth with a 1.8 average and 2.20 million viewers.

Lifetime was sixth with a 1.7 average and 1.97 million viewers. The numbers were fashioned by a puissant weekend duo of Shirley MacLaine’s Coco Chanel original biopic on Sept. 13, fourth for the week with 5.23 million viewers, and original series hit Army Wives, which marched before 4.13 million to finish 18th for the period. Chanel was ad-supported cable's second most-watched original movie this year, behind the network’s Emmy-nominated The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, which garnered 5.8 million watchers. Disney Channel's Camp Rock with 8.9 million on a live + same-day basis and 10.1 million, when measured by live + seven-day, is cable's top movie of 2008.

CNN and Nick at Nite each registered a 1.4 with the news network averaging 1.69 million viewers and the sitcom purveyor notching 1.65 million.

TBS (1.3, 1.67 million) and History (1.2, 1.49 million) rounded out the top 10. The latter was led by 9/11 special, 102 Minutes That Changed America, which became the service’s second-biggest show ever with 5.15 million viewers.

Another top show: the mid-season finale of ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager pulled in 4.54 million watchers Sept. 9.

Among the Madison Avenue-coveted 18-to-49 set, ESPN set the pace with 1.72 million primetime watchers on average last week, according to Nielsen. It was trailed by USA’s 1.36 million viewers in the demo, 997,000 for TNT, 946,000 for TBS and 793,000 for Lifetime.