Best Summer Yet for Cable Ratings

Aug 1, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Ad-supported cable is posting its highest-rated summer yet, fueled by new dramas such as TNT’s “The Closer” and FX’s “Over There” as well as returning series such as USA’s “Monk,” Sci Fi’s “Battlestar Galactica” and FX’s “Rescue Me.”

Nielsen Media Research data for the summer season so far show cable leading broadcast in audience share, up 4 percent over last summer to a 61 percent audience share. The figure compares about 60 ad-supported cable networks to the seven broadcast networks from May 30 to July 24 during prime time.

“Despite people asserting broadcast has the buzz, the drumbeat continues for ad-supported cable extending its lead over broadcast and leading for the fifth consecutive summer,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting.

But cable may have broadcast to thank at least in part for its success this summer, according to at least one cable executive.

Tim Brooks, Lifetime’s executive VP of research, said cable is benefiting from broadcast renewing viewer interest in scripted programming.

“Cable networks have some very high-profile scripted shows … after watching ‘Lost’ and ‘Desperate Housewives,’ those desiring scripted programming are going to cable,” Mr. Brooks said. “On broadcast, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ and ‘CSI’ [have] turned into wall-to-wall reality.”

Among summer cable series premieres, dramas and reality led the pack, while a few comedy efforts struggled. On top was “The Closer,” a ratings and critical slam-dunk averaging 1.8 million adults 18 to 49 watching the premiere of original episodes since its June 13 debut. TNT’s “Into the West” started strong with 1.8 million 18 to 49 viewers, but dropped about 40 percent by its sixth and final installment (see related story, this page).

For USA, “Monk” (an average 2.2 million 18 to 49 viewers for episode premieres) and “The Dead Zone” (1.9 million average) returned with double-digit increases among 18 to 49, though the alien abduction drama “The 4400” (2.2 million) was down 26 percent from last year’s six-episode limited-series version.

At FX, the Iraq war drama “Over There” premiered last Wednesday with 2.4 million 18 to 49 viewers , on par with the March 16 premiere of the fourth season of “The Shield” and besting the June 21 return of “Rescue Me.”

ABC Family’s “Wildfire” averaged 600,000 18 to 49 viewers since its June 20 debut and has continued to grow. The series gives the channel an original scripted draw to call its own after building ratings with acquisitions such as “Smallville” and “Gilmore Girls.”

Some reality shows on cable are making ratings splashes as well.

After “The Closer,” the top-ranked debut series of the summer was MTV’s “The ’70s House” (averaging 1.6 million 18 to 49 viewers since its July 5 debut), in which a group of young people live in a 1970s-themed pad. The series maintains a sizable share of audience from its Tuesday 10 p.m. lead-in, “The Real World,” which in its 16th season is still running hard, averaging 2.4 million since its June 21 premiere.

For sister network VH1, Hulk Hogan’s reality show “Hogan Knows Best” was another significant debut, scoring the highest premiere rating in the network’s history and averaging 1.5 million 18 to 49 viewers per episode since its premiere July 10 at 10 p.m.

Discovery’s crab-fishing reality series “Deadliest Catch” was also a success, averaging 1.4 million 18 to 49 viewers since its April 12 9 p.m. debut.

In the battle between dueling tattoo reality shows-A&E’s “Inked” (premiered July 20, airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.) and TLC’s “Miami Ink” (premiered July 19, airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m.)-the A&E version has the edge among 18 to 49-735,000 viewers to 673,00 for TLC, though the Discovery-owned network draws more total viewers. Neither show fared as well as A&E’s illusionist reality series that follows “Inked,” “Criss Angel-Mindfreak,” which averaged 1.1 million viewers since its July 20 premiere.

ABC Family’s reality effort, “Venus & Serena: For Real,” performed solidly, receiving 500,000 average 18 to 49 viewers since its Wednesday, July 20, premiere, about the same as the network’s summer prime-time average.

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series “30 Days” on FX averaged 1 million 18 to 49 viewers during its now-completed six-episode season this summer, lower than the network’s scripted dramas.

Bravo had mixed results with its reality offerings. “Being Bobby Brown” has averaged 821,000 18 to 49 viewers of its episode premieres since it debuted at 10 p.m. June 30, a good number for the network that averages 221,000 during second-quarter prime time but below what “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” typically garners.

Bravo’s “Situation: Comedy,” a quest to find an NBC-worthy new sitcom, barely registered, getting 119,000 18 to 49 viewers during its two-telecast premiere night last Tuesday.

The comedy situation for other cable networks also was grim. TNT may be experiencing the highest summer average in the network’s history, but sister channel TBS’s return of “The Real Gilligan’s Island” and the Pauly Shore reality show “Minding the Store” managed to barely match the network’s second-quarter prime-time average

Comedy Central’s effort to find a sketch comedy show to replace “Chappelle’s Show” also struggled, with a modest showing by “Stella” (533,000 average among 18 to 49 since its 10:30 p.m. June 28 debut), though “Mind of Mencia” fared a bit better (814,000 18 to 9 average since its 10:30 p.m. July 6 premiere).

A standout among the smaller networks was OLN, which drew a network record of 1.7 million total viewers with its live coverage of Lance Armstrong’s seventh Tour de France victory the morning of July 24. OLN also scored by airing exclusive reruns of the first season of “Survivor,” the network’s highest-rated noncycling program.