NFL Wins September for ESPN

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The pro football season is back and ESPN has returned to a familiar September position: atop basic-cable’s primetime ratings heap.

The total-sports network, bolstered by its Sept. 19 coverage of the Cincinnati Bengals-Miami Dolphins National Football League matchup, as well as top 10 finishes for its NFL PrimeTime pre-game show and its post-game SportsCenter telecast, finished first with a 2.3 primetime average from Sept. 13-19, according to a Disney/ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. The Bengals’ 16-13 triumph over the Dolphins that night tackled a week-high 7.7 household mark.

Not all the gridiron news was good for ESPN: its NFL game average was off 8% through the first two contests of the new season.

USA Network and Fox News Channel finished tied for second during that span with 1.9 ratings, while Turner Network Television posted a 1.8 mark to finish fourth.

On the strength of a record-breaking viewership owing to a weeklong marathon stunt for sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Nick at Nite finished with a 1.7 rating, tied for fifth place with Cartoon Network.

Rounding out the top 10: Lifetime Television and Disney Channel (tied with a 1.6); The Weather Channel, driven by its coverage of Hurricane Ivan, and Spike TV (knotted with a 1.3); and A&E Network, TBS and Sci Fi Channel (all at 1.1).

The aforementioned Nick at Nite Fresh Prince marathon (Sept. 13 to 16) helped the network average a record 1.6 million total viewers, besting the 1.5 million it drew in March 2002 for a The Cosby Show marathon.

The launch marathon showcase, which pre-empted Nick at Nite’s regularly scheduled programming during those four days, averaged a 0.7 rating and 787,000 viewers among adults 18 to 49, a 62% increase in delivery over last year’s average. The performance also topped the network’s previous record week in the demo, the September, 1996 marathon launch of Happy Days.

Fresh Prince now airs from Sunday through Thursdays from 10 to 11 p.m. and midnight to 1 p.m., as well as in other timeslots.

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