Basic cable continued to pound away at the broadcast
networks in primetime in May, scoring a 9 percent gain from the previous year's May
ratings, while the "Big Four" broadcast networks slipped 7 percent.
Basic cable's ratings rose to 21.1 from 19.4, while
the primetime ratings of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox slipped to 33 from last May's 35.5.
Turner Network Television -- the top-rated cable network in
primetime, with a 2.9 -- fell 17 percent from last May's primetime numbers,
attributing the decline to fewer late-round National Basketball Association playoff games.
Among the largest cable networks, second-place finisher USA
Network also performed well in May, increasing its primetime ratings to 2.1, a 24 percent
jump, and The Family Channel rose 33 percent, to 1.2.
TBS Superstation was third in primetime, with a 1.9 (up 6
percent), followed by Nickelodeon at 1.7 (down 6 percent) and Lifetime Television at 1.4
(up 8 percent).
Other networks that gained significantly in primetime from
last May included Cartoon Network (18 percent), FX (60 percent), Comedy Central (75
percent) and CNBC (50 percent).
Nick won the total-day race with a 1.4, even though its
ratings dropped by 7 percent from last year.
On the downside, ESPN's ratings continued their
downward spiral, dropping 29 percent in primetime, to 1.0 in May, following declines of 21
percent in April and 23 percent for the first quarter.
Bob Sieber, vice president of audience development for
Turner Networks, described cable's May gains as part of a "consistent
trend," pointing out that cable has increased its primetime ratings in 96 out of the
past 100 weeks.
The broadcast networks' event programming for the May
sweeps slowed cable's growth "a little bit," Sieber said, "but it
didn't help them much."
Tim Brooks, senior vice president of research for USA
Networks Inc., attributed USA's ratings rise to strong performances by the
network's "Sunday Night Heat" block of original programming, wrestling and Walker,
Bruno Cohen, senior vice president and managing editor for
CNBC, said the impressive ratings jump by the business-news channel in May was a result of
business and financial news becoming "more important to people," as an
increasing number of viewers have equity in the financial markets.
Cohen also contended that more viewers are using CNBC as a
primary news source because they are "frustrated by the [editorial] choices of
ESPN would not comment on its ratings skid, but
cable-industry executives speculated that the sports powerhouse may be getting hurt by the
improved quality of Fox Sports Net's regional-sports networks.