Money and Monica draw cable viewers

FNC, CNBC record best-ever quarters

A news-heavy summer filled with sex scandals and a shaky stock market sent numbers soaring for news and info cablers during the third quarter.

Fox News Channel and CNBC recorded their best quarters ever, with FNC soaring a staggering 540% in primetime (from 23,000 homes to 147,000 homes) and 324% overall (from 17,000 to 72,000) compared to same frame last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

FNC was also up sharply from the second quarter of 1998, leaping 100% in total-day stats.

Doubling up

Rival all-news toddler MSNBC also scored huge gains, with primetime viewership doubling to 201,000 this year from 98,000 during the third quarter of ’97. On a 24-hour basis, MSNBC went from an average of 70,000 homes last year to 142,000 during the third quarter of 1998.

While its stats weren’t as staggering as FNC’s and MSNBC’s, veteran news net CNN shared their gains, posting its best quarterly household numbers in three years.

CNN averaged 434,000 homes on a total day basis, a rise of 20% from the 372,000 households watching during the same frame a year ago. The cabler’s top performer was “Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer,” which more than doubled tune-in for the Sunday noon to 1 p.m. time period on a year-to-year basis.

Money and Monica

The combo of money and Monica also did a (positive) number for biz news cabler CNBC.

Its total day numbers skyrocketed 81% in the third quarter, with 306,000 homes tuning in on average (up from 169,000 last year).

CNBC’s primetime lineup, which went virtually all-Monica during the summer, averaged an impressive 532,000 homes during the quarter — a whopping 106% increase over year-ago figures. “Hardball With Chris Matthews” was a particular standout, nearly tripling CNBC’s audience for the 8-9 p.m. time period.

Amazingly, the crush of news had no effect on CNN Headline News. Indeed, the newsbrief net’s total-day household delivery actually dropped 9% in the third quarter vs. the same frame a year ago.

In cable’s primetime race, USA Network won the third quarter ratings crown with a 2.2 cable universe rating (1.62 million households), which is a 5% ratings increase and 6% households increase compared to the third quarter of 1997. The web was buoyed by a big increase in its Monday night wrestling block and growth in its “Sunday Night Heat” original drama lineup.

TNT sacked

Without NFL football games, TNT tumbled 21% in ratings to a 1.9 cable universe number and 17% in households to 1.4 million. TNT fell from first place in prime for third quarter last year to third place in the just-completed third quarter.

USA’s numbers were helped by a 61% increase in its Monday night WWF Wrestling block, which averaged a 4.4 cable universe rating (3.35 million households) in the third quarter and 35% ratings growth in its original Sunday night show “Pacific Blue,” which averaged a 2.3 cable universe rating (1.68 million households).

Nickelodeonfinished second in the prime time competition with a 2.1 cable universe rating (1.535 million households).

Nick wins

As usual, Nick won the total day viewership race with a 1.6 cable universe rating (1.145 million households), which was a 6% decline from last year’s third quarter.

TBS finished fourth in prime with a 1.9 cable universe rating (1.39 million households), a 5% decline from a year ago.

ESPN, with NFL games and a rejuvenated interest in Major League Baseball, boosted its primetime cable universe ratings to a 1.8 (1.34 million households), a 20% increase from the third quarter of 1997.

Other cable success stories this quarter included Cartoon Network, which grew its primetime cable universe rating 23% to a 1.6 (813,000 households, a 37% increase); Fox Family Channel, which improved its ratings 30% to a 1.3 over last year’s Family Channel format; MTV, which nudged its prime ratings up 13% to 0.9 (624,000 households); and the History Channel and Comedy Central, which both improved their primetime ratings from a 0.2 in third quarter 1997 to a 0.7 rating in 1998.

A&E suffered a 7% primetime ratings decline to a 1.3 (929,000 households).

The Learning Channel, TV Land, VH1, E!, HGTV, the Weather Channel and BET also enjoyed ratings games gains? in primetime.

Discovery, the Nashville Network, FX, Sci-Fi Channel and ESPN were flat compared to third quarter 1997 primetime ratings.

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