Cable Maintains Its Summer Heat

Oct 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

It was another hot summer for cable, and the streak continued into fall despite broadcast’s new-season program launches.
With no new network shows breaking out during the first week of the season (ending Sept. 28), the major networks generated a 49.9 percent share of viewing among U.S. households, down 3 percent from a year ago. During the same period ad-supported cable gained 9 percent to a 47.5 percent share.
Among adults 18 to 49, broadcast’s share fell 5 percent to 46.6 percent, while cable rose 9 percent to 38.4 percent.
The week wrapped up a third quarter of gains for cable. For the quarter that ran from June 30 through Sept. 28, cable recorded a 54.3 percent household share, compared with broadcast’s 38.2 share.
“Not a single broadcast network showed any growth in any of the sales demos in the third quarter,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting. He added that for only the second September-to-September period, cable beat broadcast. And based on the premiere week showing, “There’s no indications they’re in better shape now.”
Broadcasters this year made a concerted effort to blunt cable’s summer strength by promoting original programming, both scripted and reality.
“Summer started strong for the broadcasters,” said Tim Brooks, executive VP of research at Lifetime. The broadcasters were up in June, he said, “but it all deteriorated.”
Original cable shows are often launched during the summer, and this year a larger number of networks employed that strategy. Some new shows attracted audiences, while new episodes helped many returning shows retain viewers, he said.
“It’s not just the number of cable hits,” he added. “It’s coming from all directions. Who’d have thought? Bravo or FX?” New episodes of FX’s “Nip/Tuck” are among the highest-rated cable programs, drawing 2.7 million viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic.
In prime time, TNT was the top-rated network among 18- to 49-year-old viewers. Its delivery in that demo rose 12 percent to 1.1 million viewers. Following TNT were ESPN, down 8 percent from a year ago, and TBS, up 4 percent.
Powered by its hit “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” NBC’s Bravo was up 135 percent. Other big gainers included SoapNet, up 71 percent; Travel Channel, up 45 percent; Lifetime Movie Channel, up 29 percent; and Discovery, Court TV and Toon Disney, each up 28 percent.
Disney Channel, which is not advertiser-supported, said it was tops among kids 6 to 11, generating a 60 percent gain in viewership from a year ago in prime time.
Among the major networks losing viewers were USA, down 20 percent; Lifetime, down 13 percent; and Arts & Entertainment, off 19 percent.
The news channels lost some of their Iraq war viewership among 25 to 54 viewers. Fox News Channel showed the least slippage, down 5 percent. CNN was down 18 percent from a year ago and MSNBC was down 33 percent.
Food Network said the third quarter was the highest-rated in its history for prime time, cooking up a 15 percent gain. The Scripps-owned network also said it surpassed the 80-million-subscriber mark.
HGTV, another Scripps network, also had its best third quarter ever, racking up a 14 percent increase in prime time. HGTV said the 2002-03 season was its best.