It'll be business as usual for cable networks during NBC's two-week presentation of the Summer Olympics.
Networks such as TNT and A&E Network — and even NBCU-owned networks carrying Olympics coverage, like USA Network — will continue to air new episodes of their top scripted series against NBC's primetime coverage of the Beijing Summer Games from Aug. 8 through Aug. 24. Network executives say they're not concerned about losing viewers to NBC's Olympics coverage, which drew 203 million total, unduplicated viewers during the broadcast network's two-week coverage of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
A&E officials said they are not putting original episodes of The Cleaner or Dog The Bounty Hunter on hiatus, while TNT executives said the “drama network” will continue to air new episodes of its blockbuster drama series The Closer and Saving Grace throughout NBC's Olympics run.
Even with NBC's Olympic coverage expected to draw a large female audience, distaff-targeted network Lifetime Television will put its original content such as series Army Wives and original movies up against NBC's coverage of gymnastics, swimming and other female-targeted events.
NBCU-owned cable services such as USA Network, Sci Fi Channel and Oxygen are continuing to air original episodes of popular series. USA's 165 hours of mostly non-primetime coverage of men's and women's basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball and water polo will not affect original airings of its highly rated scripted series, including Monk, Psych, Burn Notice and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, according to network officials.
Oxygen's 20 hours of mostly gymnastics recaps will not preclude the network from airing the final two original episodes of its reality series Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, according to a network spokeswoman. The series, chronicling the lives of Hollywood couple Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott, will air its finale Aug. 12.
While Sci Fi was expected to pre-empt new episodes of its Friday-night lineup of Doctor Who and Stargate Atlantis against NBC's Aug. 8 coverage of the Olympics opening ceremonies, it will resume original installments for both shows this week. The network also will continue with new episodes of its Tuesday night franchise Eureka throughout its parent company's Olympics run.
Cable historian Tim Brooks says the cable networks have established such a foothold during the summer among viewers that specialty programming such as the Olympics won't deter viewers from watching their favorite cable shows.
“It's a great time to let your brand work for you despite the Olympics,” he said. “The cable networks have established brands that viewers will continue to watch.”
Brooks also said the games, despite attracting a large audience to the broadcast networks, should not infringe on cable's overall summer primetime household share lead over the broadcast networks.
Indeed, cable bested broadcast networks in terms of household share even during the last summer games. NBC's 203 million viewers in 2004 — a record for a non-U.S. Olympics — couldn't keep cable from generating an average 57 primetime share for cable networks during that summer, compared to 35 share for the broadcast networks combined.
Even if NBC can match those numbers this year, it'll barely close the wide gap between cable and broadcast summer viewing shares thus far in 2008, according to Brooks.
From May 5 through July 27, cable is averaging a 67 primetime household share compared to a 37 share for the broadcast networks.