November Was Cable's Month

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Although the final tallies haven't been made, basic cable was poised to score solid primetime growth during the November sweeps period, while the broadcast networks, as a group, sustained viewership erosion.

Through the first 25 days of the November sweeps — Oct. 31 through Nov. 24 — basic cable registered a 4.5 percent gain in primetime household ratings, to a 27.7 average from a 26.5 last year (Nov. 1 through Nov. 25, 2001), according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

That translated to a 3.7 percent rise in share to a 44.7, versus a 43.1; and a 5.9 percent gain in delivery, to 29.6 million households, up from 27.9 million a year ago.

Conversely, the seven broadcast networks' weighted gross primetime average for the 25 days was a 31.6, off 5.4 percent from a 33.4 last year. The broadcasters' share declined 6.4 percent, to 50.9, while delivery dipped 4.3 percent, to 33.7 million households.

The sweeps, during which broadcasters air more prominent series fare and specials so affiliates can establish higher advertising rates, ended Nov. 27.

The results come after a relatively sluggish month for cable in October, in which comparisons to the year-ago period were skewed by disruptions in normal viewing patterns tied to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We absolutely did what we expected to do. Even with the strength of [ABC's] The Bachelor
and other special programming from the broadcasters, basic cable ate their lunch," said CAB president and CEO Joe Ostrow.

"It was a great month for cable. The industry's variety of programming has tremendous power even against The Bachelor
and what was theoretically the broadcast networks' most powerful programming arsenal," said MTVN executive vice president of research Betsy Franks. She also pointed to a premium ally that blunted broadcast's assault.

"The Sopranos
has taken a bite out of the broadcasters on Sunday night," she said, noting the Nielsen success of Home Box Office's mob hit.

On an individual basis, ESPN led the basic-cable pack in primetime for November with a 2.4 average, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. It was fueled by the top five shows of the month: four National Football League games and a Thursday-night college grid matchup featuring the top-ranked University of Miami.

That's up 33 percent from November 2001 (Oct. 29 through Nov. 25, 2001).

Lifetime Television, down 5 percent, was second with a 1.8 average. The women's-targeted channel declared it was poised to don the primetime ratings diadem for a second consecutive year, though.

Lifetime executives said the channel's ratings are up 5 percent year-to-date, good for a 2.1 average and a 17 percent lead over Turner Network Television, which tallied a 1.7.

TNT also registered a 1.7 (ahead 13 percent) in November to finish third, while Nickelodeon (up 7 percent) and USA Network (down 6 percent) were next, each at a 1.6.

Rest of Top 10

Rounding out November's top 10: Fox News Channel (up 8 percent), TBS Superstation (a 30 percent falloff) and Cartoon Network (an 8 percent decrease); TLC, boosted by its Saturday night duo of Trading Spaces
at a While Your Were Out
at a 1.1 (up 38 percent); and Sci Fi, whose 1.0 was a best-ever November performance (a 43 percent surge).

Among adult demos, ESPN was tops among the 18-to-49 set (up 44 percent to 1.49 million of those viewers) and 25-to-54 crowd (ahead 26 percent to 1.46 million).

TNT was second with both groups, growing at an 11 percent clip to 928,000 on average and 14 percent to 987,000 among the respective demos.

Though it was down 30 percent to 922,000 viewers, TBS was third among the younger group, while USA — off 5 percent to 907,000 — showed with the older group.

On a total-day basis, Nick, driven by SpongeBob Squarepants, the highest-rated entertainment show of the month, and Fairly Odd Parents, averaged a 1.5, 55 percent ahead of second-place Lifetime's 1.1. TNT and Cartoon Network were next with a 1.0 apiece, followed by ESPN, TBS and USA, all with a 0.9 average over the 24-hour span.

On the all-news front, Fox News was the only network to mount a gain in primetime. CNN, which finished in a tie for 11th for the month, saw ratings decline 25 percent, to a 0.9, in November.

MSNBC was down 43 percent to a 0.4, while CNN Headline News decreased 33 percent to a 0.2 average. Business news proponent CNBC matched Headline's mark, but sustained a 50 percent ratings drop in the process.

Franks expects basic cable to keep improving in December.

"The broadcasters will be scaling back a bit after the sweep. Historically, cable does well during these lulls. You also get more family viewing around the holidays and with kids coming home from college," she said. "And there are some big shows wit the return of [MTV's] The Osbournes, and [Sci Fi's] Taken. ESPN also has very powerful programming in December."

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