Despite such sweeps stunts as the birth of Rachel's baby on Friends
— and the National Basketball Association playoffs —Lifetime Television hung onto its No. 1 perch in the primetime ratings during May.
The women's network captured its first-ever May win, and has now been tops in primetime for five consecutive months. Lifetime tallied a 2.0 primetime-household rating in May, up 18 percent over the same month last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Turner Network Television and Nickelodeon tied for second place in primetime, with a 1.9 rating. But while TNT's household ratings were flat, Nick grew a sizable 27 percent.
Two Turner Broadcasting System Inc. networks — Cartoon Network and TBS Superstation — tied for third place, with a 1.6 rating. Cartoon Network was flat compared with a year ago, while TBS was up 7 percent, from a 1.5.
They were followed by USA Network at a 1.4, down 13 percent from a year ago; and A&E Network, which tallied a 1.1 to pull even with its performance from last May. ESPN, Discovery Channel, FX and Fox News Channel all averaged a 1.0 rating.
ESPN was down 9 percent from a year ago, while Discovery Channel was flat. FX was up 25 percent — enjoying a boost from its hit The Shield —
while its fellow News Corp. service, Fox News, was up 67 percent.
"The story for most of last year was, we were the only major network showing gains," Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said. "This May, several networks were strong. Nickelodeon was up. TBS was up. FX has got a strong series."
Lifetime's movies and its Sunday-night block of original series continued to show solid growth in May, increasing the network's ratings even as cable faced fierce competition from broadcast, including the season finales of Survivor
according to Brooks.
"It's the brand that carries us through that," he said. "You don't have to go in with a stunt."
In primetime in May, Nick got a big boost from SpongeBob SquarePants
and Nick at Nite's The Cosby Show.
During May, SpongeBob
airings accounted for 38 of basic cable's top 100 programs, highlighted by a May 17 special that ranked sixth for the month with a 4.5 household rating.
For the fifth consecutive month, Fox News bested Cable News Network in primetime and total-day ratings. In primetime, CNN averaged a 0.8, up 60 percent, but still lagged behind its rival's 1.0. In total-day, Fox News racked up a 0.6 rating in May, up 100 percent, while CNN landed a 0.5 rating, a 67 percent increase.
"They [Fox News and CNN] have held some of their post-9/11 gains," Brooks said. "There seems to have been a sea change [in people watching news]."
Fox News newcomer Greta Van Susteren's 10 p.m. show beat CNN's Newsnight with Aaron Brown,
posting a 0.8 rating, or 631,000 households, versus Newsnight's
0.7, or 580,000 homes.
FX had an especially memorable May.
"This was our most-viewed month ever," said Steve Leblang, senior vice president of strategic planning and research for FX Networks.
FX's double-digit gain in primetime, according to Leblang, was driven by three factors: The Shield's success; several National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Winston Cup events; and the network's Tuesday-night movies.
NICK IS TOPS
Nick registered strong gains in total-day as well as primetime. Per usual, it ranked first on a 24-hour basis with a 1.6 rating, for a 23 percent increase. The children's channel was followed by Lifetime, flat with a 1.2, and Cartoon Network, which was up 10 percent to a 1.1 rating.
TNT and TBS dominated the key adult demographics in primetime during May. Fueled by the NBA playoffs, TNT was No. 1 in delivery among adults 18 to 34, with an average of 535,000 of those viewers. It was followed by TBS, with 455,000.
Among adults 18 to 49, TNT and TBS also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in primetime delivery.
While Fox News and CNN enjoyed huge gains in primetime, the same couldn't be said for MSNBC and CNBC. The latter was down 33 percent, to a 0.2 rating, while MSNBC dropped 25 percent, to a 0.3.
Even though MTV: Music Television was home to cable's hottest show, The Osbournes,
the network was flat in primetime with a 0.8 household rating.
did notch basic cable's highest rating of the month — a 5.6 on May 7, the day its final original episode premiered. But in May, MTV was boosted by only two new Osbournes
installments, on April 30 and May 7.