Nicks Rule the Ratings Roost

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There’s a new order in the basic-cable ratings — one that doesn’t figure to change anytime soon.

Reflective of the separate ratings of the services that began with the second quarter, Nickelodeon vaulted to the top of basic cable’s primetime heap in April. The kids network averaged a 2.2 household rating from March 29 to April 25, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data, up 29% from the corresponding period last year (March 31 to April 27, 2003).

Fourth place went to Nick at Nite, the sitcom purveyor that shares channel space with Nickelodeon and is at the center of a controversy among network competitors.

DYNAMIC DUO

The measurement company put out a client clarification April 23 at the request of some cable programmers that voiced concerns about how primetime ratings are judged, considering that Nick airs only nine hours in the traditional primetime periods, while Nick at Nite runs one dozen. Other networks are gauged on a 21-hour span.

Nick at Nite, with a 1.3, also fared quite well in total-day under the new set-up, trailing only the perennial leader Nick’s 1.8 (up 20% from April 2003) in household ratings. TNT (ahead 9%, to a 1.2); Cartoon (down 8%, to a 1.1); and Disney (off 9%, to a 1.0) ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

“The secret’s out now that we’re being reported separately by Nielsen,” Nick at Nite and TV Land president Larry Jones said. “It was really at the request from advertisers, because they were saying they had to do special runs to find out how well we’ve been doing.”

To that end, Jones said Nick at Nite was tops on a total-day basis among adults aged 18 to 34 and 18 to 49, and with women 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 in the first quarter. Those rankings continued into April, according to Jones: “It’s basically been the same for the past seven months.”

Nielsen issued the client communication at the request of cable programmers, including ABC Cable Networks Group and Lifetime Television. Nielsen’s memo didn’t mention Nick at Nite specifically, but a Nielsen spokeswoman said last week that under the ratings service’s own criteria, the program block qualifies as a network.

According to Nielsen’s client memo, “To qualify for syndicated measurement by Nielsen Media Research, a cable network must regularly telecast contiguous periods of programming amounting collectively to at least 15 hours of programming each week” for at least a quarterly measurement period.

As for total-day, Nielsen mentioned some caveats, but said the “definitions must consist of single, contiguous periods of time each day, with consistent weekly patterns,” Nielsen wrote to its clients.

“Whether or not a network decides to have a less-than-24-hour 'Total Day’ is up to them, meaning that they are not required to exclude paid programming from their 'Total Day.’ A network may change its 'Total Day’ definition on a quarterly boundary.”

Getting back to the primetime Nielsen household box score, Turner Network Television was second with a 2.0 household mark, despite a 5% slip from the year-earlier period. USA Network was third, growing 36% to a 1.9.

Disney Channel was No. 5 in April with a 1.6 (down 6%), while there was a three-way tie for sixth among TBS Superstation (up 8%), Lifetime (down 18%) and Cartoon Network (down 18%).

Fox News Channel, sans war coverage from Iraq like last April, sustained a 61% decline but grabbed a share of ninth place with ESPN, which was ahead 18%.

Finishing just outside the top 10 were two of the biggest gainers for the month, MTV: Music Television and The History Channel, the latter of which benefited from its airing of former Home Box Office miniseries Band of Brothers. Both registered 1.2 averages, with the former up 33% and the latter advancing at a 71% clip.

'PHANTOM’ RULES

Nick’s positions were fortified by 13 of the 23 highest-rated shows for the month, including animated newcomer Danny Phantom, which pulled a 3.5 on April 25 at 11 a.m. Spike TV’s coverage of World Wrestling Entertainment fare pinned five spots in the top 10, including show No. 1 on March 29 with a 4.5. ESPN’s coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Women’s basketball championship on April 6 was second with a 4.3, while the net’s National Football League Draft coverage earned it a ninth-place tie with a 3.8 average from noon to 7 p.m. on April 24.

Fox News Channel’s coverage of President Bush’s April 13 address on Iraq and terrorism earned a share of third place with a 4.3

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