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Cable Premieres Fast Out of the Gate

Jul 31, 2006  •  Post A Comment

This summer, aided by cable’s increasingly robust marketing budgets, several channels’ tentpole premieres have enjoyed strong out-of-the-gate performance.

“Overall there was a strong pallet of original new shows. A lot of these will be back for a second year,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP director of research for Horizon Media. “Plus, none of the broadcast shows were getting any buzz.”

“Psych” on USA Network, “Kyle XY” on ABC Family, “The Hills” on MTV and “Eureka” (Sci Fi Channel) have posted season-to-date averages that about double their respective network’s prime-time average from third quarter last year.

Cable network hits have historically been slow starters. They built audiences gradually during their freshman seasons, fueled by word of mouth.

But as conglomerate-funded cable channels continue to siphon summer audience shares from broadcast networks, they’ve increasingly marketed their summer series like theatrical movies, helping ensure an early viewership spike.

“Each summer the premieres get bigger and bigger,” said Catherine Lord, senior manager of ratings publicity for Disney-ABC Television Group. “People are searching out quality programming, and that’s obviously not being offered by the networks right now.”

Here’s how several major premieres have fared season to date:

“Psych” (USA): “Psych,” starring an unknown actor (James Roday), garnered mediocre reviews and has a tough time slot: Friday at 10 p.m., when viewers are scarce. Yet the series has averaged 5.4 million viewers (2.2 million among 18 to 49) and fell only 25 percent from a monster premiere to the third episode, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“It’s extraordinary,” Mr. Adgate said. “Even broadcasters have trouble getting that many viewers on Friday. It’s probably the most impressive debut of the season.”

“Saved” and “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” (TNT): Gauging the success of these TNT offerings is tricky. Both are pulling in large numbers, yet not quite hitting previous benchmarks set by this top-ranked channel.

Paramedic drama “Saved” averaged 3.4 million viewers (1.4 million of them in the 18 to 49 demographic). That’s far less than TNT’s hit “The Closer,” yet still a healthy 25 percent above last year’s third-quarter prime-time average.

Ms. Lord said the show’s demographics make it a success. “Most of TNT’s series skew 50-plus, but 41 percent of this audience is 18 to 49,” she said.

While the eight-hour limited series “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” underperforms compared with previous limited series “Into the West” and a prior Stephen King original movie, `”Salem’s Lot,” it still pulls a significant 4 million average viewers (2.2 million among 18 to 49).

“Eureka” (Sci Fi): Another surprise breakout. In its first two episodes “Eureka” has averaged 3.5 million viewers (1.5 million among 18 to 49), which is considerably higher than Sci Fi’s 1.2 million third-quarter prime-time average.

But there’s a caveat: The numbers account for only the first two episodes, and the second episode fell off by 35 percent.

“It has to be considered a hit,” Ms. Lord said. “But the drop-off is a little high.”

“The Hills” (MTV): This “Laguna Beach” spinoff is another no-brainer reality hit for the network, averaging 2.4 million viewers (1.6 million among 18 to 49). That’s about double MTV’s 1.2 million third-quarter average from last year.

“Angela’s Eyes” and “Lovespring International” (Lifetime): The network’s one-two summer punch of drama and comedy has resulted in modest numbers. The procedural drama “Angela’s Eyes” has averaged 2.1 million viewers (750,000 among 18 to 49), which is about 19 percent above the third-quarter prime-time average last year.

With its 11 p.m. timeslot, “Lovespring” is in late night, but averaging only 920,000 viewers over six episodes (460,000 among viewers 18 to 49) is still considered very lean.

“That’s disappointing,” Mr. Adgate said of the figures. “And after six episodes, that’s probably as much as it’s going to do.”

“Kyle XY” (ABC Family): With a five-episode average of 2 million viewers (750,000 among 18 to 49) and a 2005 third-quarter network average of only 1 million viewers, the scripted drama “Kyle XY” is ABC Family’s most successful original series ever.

“Blade: The Series” (Spike TV): The network for men’s first scripted drama opened strong thanks to a heavy marketing push, but has fallen a steep 61 percent since its premiere. The show’s four-episode average is 1.7 million viewers (1.1 million among 18 to 49,) which is only a slight improvement over Spike’s prime average for third quarter last year.

Mr. Adgate noted that the show’s demographics are favorable.

“If you look at the numbers, it’s a very young-skewing show,” he said. “You look at those and the show doesn’t look so bad. If two-thirds of the total audience is 18 to 49, advertisers would be pretty happy.”

A Spike TV spokesperson said the show is up 200 percent in key male demographics versus that same time slot last year.

“Janice Dickinson Project” (Oxygen): This reality show by the former “America’s Next Top Model” judge averages 350,000 total viewers (235,000 among 18 to 49), but that’s up 58 percent from third-quarter 2005 prime-time average and is the most successful of Oxygen’s original series.

“With Oxygen in 68 million homes … these numbers are pretty low level,” Ms. Lord said. “But that’s still a good increase.”