Quick Start to Summer

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Cable started the summer television season blazing last week in its audience share battle against the seven broadcast networks.

Despite promises of more original programming during a period once littered with repeats, the broadcast networks were only able to muster a 35 share during the week of May 31-June 6 compared to a whopping 57.9 share for cable, according to Lifetime Television.

Given cable’s historically strong summer performances and its unprecedented win over broadcast networks during the winter 2003-04 television season, executives believe cable will continue to draw the lion’s share of viewers during the summer months.

“After taking a full decade to inculcate viewers into the fact that in May [broadcast network schedules are] over and they should go someplace else, it’s very hard to reverse something like that,” Lifetime executive vice president of research Tim Brooks said. “Cable has learned how to exploit that by premiering programming at the beginning of the summer and capturing attention.”

Even NBC’s highly-rated Summer Olympics coverage won’t rescue the networks from their summer share doldrums. The 2000 Barcelona Olympics helped the broadcast networks beat cable’s share during the third quarter 46.7 to 44.3. But given cable’s resounding 54.3 to 38.2 share win during third quarter 2003 and its impressive start thus far this year, Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. chief research officer Jack Wakshlag said it would be very difficult for the networks to catch cable even with a strong Olympics showing.

“I’m willing to project that the seven broadcast network number will be lower than it was when we had the last Summer Olympics in 2000,” Wakshlag said.

Cable will set forth what it feels is a formidable lineup of new programming set to debut over the next few months, including USA Network’s scripted series 4400, about the lives of people abducted by aliens, Turner Network Television’s terrorism-based miniseries The Grid, and FX’s Denis Leary-produced drama skein Rescue Me.

But uncharacteristic of previous summers, Brooks said most of cable’s summer original shows are from returning series, such as Lifetime’s scripted skeins Missing, Wild Card and Strong Medicine, FX’s Nip/Tuck and USA’s Monk and Dead Zone. “Cable has [lain] in such a base of successful series that this summer cable succeeds by continuing on the original shows that it’s planted in past years, which are still fresh to viewers.”

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