For the first time in its history, Lifetime Television finished the first quarter as the No. 1-ranked basic-cable network in primetime. And the women's network prevailed during one of the medium's strongest ratings and viewership periods in several years.
Powered by several record-setting network performances, basic-cable ratings improved 9 percent to a collective 28.0 in primetime during the period extending from Jan.1 through April 1, versus a 25.6 in the year-ago period, according to Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. Basic cable's average delivery surged 11 percent, to some 28.6 million households from 25.8 million.
Cable's gain came as the broadcast networks suffered further erosion. The weighted household rating for the seven broadcast networks declined 6 percent to a 33.5 during the first quarter, from a 35.6 in first quarter 2000. The measured period spanned Dec. 27, 1999 through March 26, 2000.
Lifetime, buoyed by strong performances from several original shows, posted a 2.0 rating, besting the 1.9 of USA Network and TBS Superstation. USA — which is still feeling the pinch from the loss of highly-rated World Wrestling Federation programming — fell 21 percent from first-quarter 2000, while TBS scored a 6-percent improvement.
Cartoon Network, up 6 percent to a best-ever 1.7, and Turner Network Television and Nickelodeon, each with a 1.6, rounded out the top five, according to the Turner analysis.
Despite a 7-percent falloff, Nickelodeon scored the best total-day ratings of any network, generating a 1.4.
Lifetime's top ranking is a major achievement for network and CEO Carole Black, who took the service's helm two years ago. The network's Sunday lineup — which features the top-rated shows Any Day Now
and The Division
— and its focus on women 18 to 34 spurred an 18-percent ratings increase over first-quarter 2000, the network said.
"Carole's goal was to make this the first major adult-oriented network that was treated like a brand," said Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks. "We found the strongest programming concepts that fit the brand and viewers have responded."
Other niche-oriented networks posted substantial ratings gains during the quarter. Continuing its assault on Cable News Network, Fox News Channel registered a whopping 80-percent advance to 0.9 in 2001, compared with 0.5 for first-quarter 2000. CNN, meanwhile, dropped 13 percent to a 0.7 from a 0.8 rating in 2000. Among those that posted strong quarters: Black Entertainment Television, up 20 percent to a 0.6 rating, and Travel Channel, which scored a 67-percent gain to a 0.5.
E! Entertainment Television set its best-ever quarterly primetime rating at 0.6, up 19 percent over last year, as did Bravo, which pulled a 0.4 to finish 33 percent ahead of the prior-year period.
TNN: The National Network, bolstered by WWF programming, broke into the top 10 with a record 1.1 rating, a 57-percent jump over first-quarter 2000.
The strong overall showing by cable helped increase television's across-the-board primetime viewing by 2 percent, to an average of almost 74 million households.
"We're not only growing cable's viewership numbers in our own right, but we're helping to grow the overall viewing pie," said Turner vice president of audience development Bob Sieber.
Sieber believes the ratings gap between cable and broadcast could shrink further if there is protracted a writers' and actors' strike this summer.
"Nobody wants a strike, but it's fair to say that basic-cable networks are in a better shape in terms of what we own and license," he said. "They'll be more sampling of cable, but in the end, I don't think a strike is good for anybody."
TNT's Louis L'Amour's Crossfire Trail, the highest-rated movie in basic-cable history, was the leading show for the first quarter, registering a 9.6 rating for its Jan. 21 premiere. The first installment of USA's Attila
miniseries was second, posting a 6.1 on Jan. 30, while its second half garnered a 5.6 the next night to finish sixth overall.
TBS' presentation of Pretty Woman
on Feb. 11 scored a 5.7 to place fifth. TNN's WWF programming pinned the remaining six positions among cable's 10 highest-rated shows for the quarter.