Summer Surge Powers Cable to 3Q Win

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Cable television kept up its ratings and viewership momentum — and its lead over the broadcast networks — during the third quarter, despite the launch of several competitive summer shows by the "Big Four" networks.

On the network level, a couple of channels rolled sevens: Lifetime Television won the primetime household ratings race for the seventh consecutive quarter, while Nickelodeon continued its seven-year run atop the total-day measurement.

Meanwhile, MTV: Music Television and Turner Network Television dominated the top demographic categories in primetime.

Ad-supported cable networks averaged a 51.9 percent share of viewers from July 1 through Sept. 29, easily outdistancing broadcast networks' 34.9 share, according to a Turner Broadcasting System Inc. analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

During the third quarter, ABC, CBS and NBC — which mostly offered repeat programming, but did trot out a few new shows — either posted losses or were flat from last year. Only Fox, on the strength of its popular American Idol, posted a gain from third-quarter 2001.

"The big news for the industry was the summer story," Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said. "The broadcasters made a concerted effort to ramp up original programming early in the summer, because they learned that cable ratings gains during the summer equal cable gains in the winter. Yet, cable was still stronger during the period."

Cable's summer viewership advantage also helped propel the medium to its first-ever year-long TV season win. Cable averaged a 47.9 share in primetime during the 2001-02 TV season (which spanned Oct. 1, 2001 through Sept. 29, 2002), compared to the broadcast networks' 42.2 mark.

Lifetime finished in first place in every quarter during that period, including third-quarter 2002, for which it averaged a 2.1 rating — even with last year. The women's-targeted service outpaced the 1.8 tallied by TNT and Nickelodeon, despite 6 percent year-to-year growth for the kids-targeted network and a 20 percent spike for the "drama" channel.

ESPN rises 31%

ESPN — on the strength of its Major League Baseball and National Football League coverage — and USA — buoyed by original series Monk
and The Dead Zone—
finished tied for fourth with a 1.7 rating, ESPN's numbers were up 31 percent, while USA was flat from 2001.

Cartoon Network (1.6, down 6 percent), TBS Superstation (1.5, down 12 percent), A&E Network (1.1, down 8 percent) Fox News Channel (1.1, flat) and Discovery Channel (1.0, down 9 percent) rounded out the top 10.

Several networks made major ratings advances during the quarter, including: Court TV — which set a quarterly record — as well as ABC Family, TV Land, and FX, all of which averaged a 0.8 rating, up 14 percent from last year.

On the flip side, networks such as History Channel, (0.8, down 11 percent), AMC (0.7, down 22 percent) WGN and SoapNet (both averaged a 0.5, down 17 percent) and The Travel Channel (0.3, down 25 percent), suffered double-digit losses during the quarter.

TNT, on the strength of its National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing coverage, as well as its original movie Door to Door,
drew more adults 18 to 49 (1.02 million) and 25 to 54 (1.13 million) in primetime than any other network. USA, ESPN, Lifetime and TBS comprised the top five for both categories.

MTV beat out USA among 18-to-34-year-old adults, according to Nielsen.

Nickelodeon's 1.6 total-day household rating topped all networks, while Lifetime reached more adults 18 to 49 and 25-to-54 during the quarter than any other network. TBS reigned supreme among adults 18 to 34.

Sports programming accounted for eight of the top 10 most-watched cable shows during the quarter, led by ESPN's Sept. 8 Sunday Night Football
game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, which garnered a 9.6 rating. MTV's Aug. 29 2002 Video Music Awards
telecast, with an 8.3 household rating, was the highest-rated non-sports program.

Fox News Dominates

Fox News Channel continued to dominate the cable-news battle during the quarter, averaging a 1.1 rating in primetime, flat from the same period last year. Cable News Network finished with a 0.8 rating, followed by MSNBC (0.4), CNBC (0.2) and Headline News (0.2).

As expected, ratings for all of the news outlets were flat or down compared to third-quarter 2001, due to coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. CNN's numbers dropped 33 percent, while MSNBC and CNBC suffered declines of 43 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Headline News was down 33 percent.

More positively for cable news, the industry as a whole continued its viewership dominance over the broadcast networks.

Cable news services captured a 57 percent share of news viewing during the quarter, compared to 43 percent for the broadcast networks, according to Turner Broadcasting System Inc. chief research officer Jack Wakshlag.

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