Super-charged by the National Basketball Association Playoffs, Turner Network Television won the May primetime ratings championship.
TNT posted a 2.4 rating last month, enough to win the crown but down 14% from 2.8 a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by the Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group. The period covered was April 25 to May 29.
In May, USA Network ranked No. 2 in primetime behind TNT, with a 1.8, up 6% versus last year’s 1.7. USA was followed by Nick at Nite and Disney Channel, which tied for third place with a 1.7 rating. Nick at Nite and Disney Channel were each up 6% from last May, when they racked up a 1.6.
Cartoon Network tallied a 1.5 primetime rating in May, flat compared with last year. And Lifetime Television registered a 1.4, up 8% from last year’s 1.3.
TBS UP 18%
TBS, Spike TV and Fox News Channel all posted a 1.3 rating. TBS, near the first anniversary of its “Very Funny” rebranding, saw an 18% gain, up from a 1.1.
Spike TV saw sizable double-digit growth, with an 86% gain, up from a 0.7. Fox News enjoyed an 8% increase, up from a 1.2.
ESPN and FX each had a 1.1 primetime rating, with the sports service down 27% and FX up 10% from a year ago.
There were several reasons for ESPN’s double-digit decline. There were fewer NBA playoff games this year, nine versus 12, so the sports channel didn’t benefit from as many high-rated games because the various series ran short, an ESPN spokeswoman said. And because of the labor strife in the National Hockey League, there was no Stanley Cup Finals this year, she added.
ESPN and FX were followed in May primetime by History Channel, which did a 1.0 rating, flat with last year. Sci Fi Channel, MTV: Music Television and AMC each posted a 0.9, which was flat for the science fiction service, an 18% drop for the music channel and a 13% increase for the movie network.
While 24-hour news network Fox News saw a gain in May, its rivals didn’t. Cable News Network slipped 14%, to a 0.6 from a 0.7. MSNBC was flat, with a 0.3.
CNN Headline News is benefiting from an overhaul of its primetime lineup that kicked off in February, with its schedule now including destination programs like Nancy Grace. Headline News ratings were up 50%, to a 0.3 from a 0.2.
The National Basketball Association playoffs had a huge impact on TNT, particularly among males. In prime in May, TNT not only ranked as cable’s No. 1 network in a variety of adult demographics but it also beat UPN and The WB Network in men 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, according to Nielsen.
On May 29, for example, TNT’s playoff game between the Miami Heat and the Detroit Pistons outdelivered all programs that night on ABC, CBS, NBC and The WB among adults 18-to-34, men 18-to-34, men 18-to-49 and men 25-to-54.
Overall in May, sports dominated cable. The top-10 list of highest-rated cable programs were all sports telecasts. For example, three TNT Pistons-Heat games made the Top 10 list. In the No. 1 slot was a May 25 Pistons-Heat game, with a 4.7 rating.
It was followed by a tie in the No. 2 position between a May 23 Pistons-Heat game on TNT and an April 26 New York Mets-Atlanta Braves game on Turner South. Both programs tallied a 4.6 rating.
GAMES TIE FOR 7TH
TNT’s May 29 Pistons-Heat game was in seventh place, in a triple tie with a San Antonio Spurs-Phoenix Suns game on ESPN and a SpongeBob SquarePants episode on Nickelodeon. All three posted a 4.2 rating.
Nextel Cup Races on FX and the WWE on Spike TV also made the Top 10 list of highest-rated cable shows last month.
Among all cable networks, some of biggest primetime gainers in May were Discovery Health Channel, Noggin/The N, and National Geographic Channel. Like CNN Headline News, they were each up 50%, to a 0.3 from a 0.2.
Outdoor Life Network saw its ratings jump 100% in primetime, to a 0.2 from a 0.1. And Turner South was up 300%, to a 0.8 from a 0.2.
The bigger losers in May included ESPN2, which saw a 50% decline, to a 0.3 from a 0.6; and GSN, down 20% to a 0.4 from a 0.5.