You'd think that a network that only targets about half of the U.S. population would have a tough time posting ratings that rival powerful general-entertainment services like Turner Network Television or USA Network.
But Lifetime Television CEO Carole Black, whose network not only had its best ratings month ever-but beat every other basic-cable network in the process-insisted that its January performance shouldn't come as a surprise.
"On the very first day, when I talked to all of the employees, I told them we'd be No. 1," said Black, who joined Lifetime in February 1999 after a stint at NBC's Los Angeles station, KNBC-TV.
Lifetime pulled a 2.1 Nielsen Media Research primetime rating and 1.6 million households in January, beating TNT and USA, which tied for second place with a 1.9 rating. It's also the first time in Lifetime's 17-year history that it finished a monthly ratings period in first place.
While Lifetime said its Sunday-night lineup-which includes its flagship series Any Day Now
and other originals-contributed to its ratings growth, Black credited the company's increased marketing focus for much of the ratings win.
Lifetime is also bullish on the new original series The Division, which premiered on Jan. 7 with a 3.1 rating, the highest-rated basic cable premiere in the last year and the best rating Lifetime has ever had for a series premiere.
"Obviously, content is king, so having the right programs on is critical. But also marketing that, and letting women know what shows we have, is very important," said Black, who has increased Lifetime's marketing budget by 50 percent since 1999.
In addition to standard cross-channel promotion, Lifetime has been running awareness spots on broadcast networks as it looks to crush attempts by Oxygen and the rebranded WE: Women's Entertainment to grab its market share.
The network also began advertising on buses in New York and Los Angeles to create some buzz for The Division, Black noted.
USA Network and ESPN suffered the largest ratings decreases in January. USA, which is still grappling to find programming to replace the top-rated World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. shows it lost to TNN: The National Network, dropped from a 2.7 rating and 2 million households in January 2000 to a 1.9 rating and 1.6 million households.
The WWF shows helped TNN post its highest primetime and total-day ratings since its launch in 1983. The network's primetime rating jumped 52 percent to a 1.17 rating and 929,000 households; it finished January in ninth place.
ESPN fell from a 1.6 primetime rating and 1.2 million households in January 2000 to a 1.0 rating and 828,000 households last month.
Network spokesman Dave Nagel blamed the drop on a slight change in the January ratings period.
Last year, Nielsen began the January book on Dec. 27, which allowed ESPN to count four primetime college football bowl games carried during the period. This year, the monthly period began on Jan. 1, so ESPN only had one primetime bowl game, Nagel said.
TBS Superstation secured fourth place in primetime, with a 1.2 rating and 1.5 million households, flat with last year. Cartoon Network's 1.7 rating and 1.2 million households ranked it fifth. Cartoon improved from a 1.5 primetime rating last January.
A&E Network and Nickelodeon tied for sixth, with 1.6 ratings. Nickelodeon dropped from a 1.8 last January, while A&E was flat.
The 0.9 rating FX pulled was flat with last year, good for 10th place.
In total-day ratings, TBS pulled a 1.2 rating and 1 million households for third place, behind Lifetime and Nickelodeon.
TBS was flat compared with last year. Cartoon was also flat at 1.1, in fourth place. A&E and TNT tied for fifth place, each with a 1.0 rating. Both networks were flat compared to last January.
USA secured seventh place with a 0.9 rating and 710,000 households, down from a 1.1 last January. Discovery Channel placed eighth with a 0.7 rating.
ESPN, History Channel, MTV and The Learning Channel finished in a four-way tie for ninth place, each with a 0.6 total-day rating.
In the all-news war, Fox News Channel continues to cause agony for Cable News Network. The four-year-old upstart tied CNN for the second month in a row in both the primetime and total-day periods.
FNC and CNN both posted 0.8 ratings, blowing away MSNBC, which generated a 0.4.
While FNC's numbers jumped 60 percent in ratings and 102 percent in households from last January, CNN was flat compared with the same period.
In the total-day category, both CNN and FNC pulled 0.4 ratings. The more widely distributed CNN pulled 341,000 households, compared with FNC's 258,000. MSNBC pulled a 0.3 total-day rating and 199,000 households.
CNN Headline News drew a 0.2 primetime rating and 135,000 households, flat compared with last year. CNBC generated a 0.4 rating in primetime, also flat with 2000. Both networks drew the same rating in terms of total day.
Although MSNBC pulled one-half of the ratings of CNN and FNC, the network noted that its total-day performance in the adults 25-to-54 demographic grew 44 percent compared with January 2000, to 121,000 households.