Buoyed by Michael Jordan's final National Basketball Association All-Star Game appearance, Turner Network Television ran away with the primetime household ratings race in February, and helped cable beat back broadcast's reality-tinged sweeps period.
TNT averaged a 2.1 household rating from Jan. 27 through Feb. 23, according to an ABC Cable Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That represented a 31 percent increase from the prior year, and enabled TNT to best Nickelodeon's 1.8 February mark (up 13 percent) and finish first for the second straight month.
In a surprise performance, Fox News Channel's household rating soared 50 percent to a record 1.7, to match Lifetime Television for third place. TBS Superstation (flat) and USA Network (down 6 percent) were next, each with a 1.6 rating.
During the first 26 days of the sweeps period, spanning Jan. 30 through Feb. 24, basic cable scored a 12.1 percent jump in primetime household ratings to a 28.7 versus a 25.6 from Jan. 31, 2002 through Feb. 25, 2002, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen data.
Cable's share improved 12.1 percent to a 45.5 from a 40.6, while household delivery expanded 13.5 percent to an average of 30.6 million households from 26.9 million during the prior-year period.
Collectively, the seven broadcast networks' weighted gross average fell off 12.4 percent to a 30.8 this year, from a 35.1 the year before, according to the CAB analysis. The medium's share dropped 12.6 percent to a 48.5, while delivery was off 11.5 percent to a 32.8 million household average.
Despite the attention drawn by Fox's Joe Millionaire, American Idol
and ABC's The Bachelorette, broadcast's overall numbers were slashed by the absence of the Winter Olympics, which NBC televised from Salt Lake City, Utah, in February 2002.
Back in cable country, TNT also prevailed in delivering the most adults aged 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 during the month, both in primetime and on a 24-hour basis.
TNT sister service TBS Superstation finished second in both the aforementioned demos and measurement periods. The two services flipped-flopped among adults 18 to 34 on a 24-hour basis.
"This is continued momentum — we won last year in our demos, and we've had very strong household ratings growth," TNT executive vice president and general manager Steve Koonin said. "Every night, we're consistently the No. 1- or No. 2-rated cable network, and it's that scheduled consistency that will serve us well in the long run."
The network still has a lot of strong programming left in its arsenal, including the NBA playoffs, National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing events, and at least four original movie premieres, Koonin added.
"Our best is yet to come," Koonin said. "We have better programming assets than anyone in the industry, and we're getting a higher yield on our assets than anybody else."
Rounding out the top 10 in households in February were: Disney Channel (a 1.5, up 25 percent); Cartoon Network (a 1.4, down 13 percent); Cable News Network (a 1.1, ahead 38 percent); ESPN and Sci-Fi Channel, (both up 43 percent), and TLC (up 11 percent), all tied at a 1.0.
Lifetime's February performance marked the second-straight period in which ratings for the women's network — which won the household ratings race in 2001 and 2002 — declined.
Network senior vice president of research Tim Brooks blamed Lifetime's poor showing on the performance of broadcast-network reality shows like Joe Millionaire
and The Bachelorette, which significantly cut into the network's core female 18-to-49 audience.
The network, however, took solace in the strong performance of original series like The Division
and Strong Medicine
and believes that a slate of new summer original shows will eventually help stunt the ratings falloff.
"We had a down month which we don't like, but some of our strongest programming came from our originals, which is our future." Brooks said.
Along with Fox News, Court TV (0.9, up 13 percent) and Home & Garden Television (0.8, up 14 percent) also set primetime ratings records for the month. Other strong performers included FX (0.8, up 33 percent) and The Weather Channel (0.4, double last years numbers).
Networks that sustained primetime ratings erosion included Discovery Channel (an 18 percent decrease to a 0.9); TNN (0.8, down 11 percent); and ABC Family (0.8, off 25 percent).
On a total-day basis, Nickelodeon ruled again with a 1.6 household rating, followed by Lifetime and TNT, each with a 1.2. Disney Channel and Fox News were knotted with a 1.1, while Cartoon Network and TBS Superstation each averaged a 1.0, ahead of USA (0.8) and CNN (0.7). With a 0.6 rating, A&E Network, ESPN, FX, The History Channel and TLC were in a 10th-place logjam.
TNT's Feb. 9 NBA All-Star Game, along with pre-game and post-game coverage, secured the top three program performances of the month, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen data. Fox News's Jan. 28 coverage of President Bush's State Of The Union
address and its follow-up analysis held the fifth and sixth spots, while TNN's World Wrestling Entertainment programming pinned down the seventh, ninth and 10th slots.
TBS Superstation's Feb. 2 presentation of the theatrical The Patriot and USA's Feb. 11 coverage of the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
finished fourth and eighth respectively.