Lifetime Television grabbed the primetime ratings crown back from ESPN in October, as the broadcast networks rode their new fall lineups past cable in the race for viewers.
Lifetime's 1.8 rating last month bested the 1.7 posted by ESPN, which topped the women's-targeted channel in the household race in September. Both Lifetime and ESPN's ratings were flat from last year, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.
In fact, just three of the medium's top 10 networks posted ratings gains versus October 2001. Nickelodeon, which tied ESPN for second with a 1.7, was up 13 percent from last year. USA was up 7 percent with a 1.5, and The Learning Channel broke into the top 10 with a 22 percent advance to a 1.1.
Turner Network Television (1.6, down 6 percent), Fox News Channel (1.5, off 6 percent), Cartoon Network (1.5, a 12 percent decline), TBS Superstation (1.3, a 19 percent decline) and Cable News Network (1.1, a 39 percent drop) also made the top 10.
Collectively, basic cable registered a 44.0 viewer share for the month.
Overall, the seven broadcast networks — on the strength of their fall season premieres — garnered more viewers in primetime than cable during the month.
On a weighted gross basis, the broadcasters posted a 53.1 share in October, according to Nielsen.
While broadcast viewing has improved since the summer months, when the medium was beaten by basic, Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said cable held its own in the face of tough competition.
"The gap between cable and the broadcasters is not nearly as large as it was during the summer when cable was dominant," Brooks said. "It's a positive story for broadcast, but it's not a bad one for cable."
In the total-day ratings category, Nickelodeon's 1.5 rating — up 15 percent from last year — was easily enough to best Lifetime and Cartoon Network's flat 1.1 rating for top honors. Fox News was also even at a 1.0 rating, followed by TNT, whose 0.9 mark was up 13 percent.
Among adults 18 to 49, TBS was first with an average of 523,000 (down 2 percent) of those viewers, while Lifetime led among the 25-to-54 set with an average of 581,000 of those viewers (up 6 percent) over the 24-hour measurement.
In primetime, ESPN swept the adult demos in October, leading the basic-cable pack among adults 18 to 34 (an average of 561,000 of those watchers), 18 to 49 (up 17 percent to 1.09 million) and 25 to (ahead 7 percent to 1.07 million),
The news channels, despite spikes from the Washington, D.C.-area sniper story, sustained Nielsen erosion versus October 2001, when Americans were tracking events in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
MSNBC saw its primetime ratings decrease 55 percent to a 0.5 average, while CNN Headline News was down 50 percent to a 0.2 average. On the business side, CNBC was off 60 percent to a 0.2 average in October.
While Fox News's primetime rating was flat, it did achieve a coup last month when its primetime news analysis show Hannity & Colmes
beat out CNN stronghold Larry King Live
for the first time, averaging a 1.6 household rating versus a 1.5 for King.
ESPN's National Football League and college football telecasts tackled four of the top 10 ratings positions. Fox News's coverage of the Washington D.C. sniper story grabbed two slots, while TLC's Trading Spaces
was the highest-rated entertainment show in October.