NEW YORK — Cable is on a roll this summer, besting the six broadcast networks decisively in the ratings after much tougher competition from the broadcasters during the summer months of 1999 and 2000.
But cable’s hot summer didn’t carry over to the top-10-rated basic networks, eight of which were either down or flat in primetime from the previous summer. The two that scored summer gains were Lifetime, the No. 1-rated network, up 24%, and TNN, up 67% (thanks mostly to its pickup of the World Wrestling Federation two-hour Monday-night slamfest, which last year resided at USA).
Without the WWF, USA, tied for No. 2 in primetime with Cartoon Network overall, was down the most this summer, by 18%. Cartoon dropped by 5%. TBS, off by 15% in the summer, and Nickelodeon, which was flat, tied for fourth overall. Counting off the rest of the top 10, TNT dropped by 6%, A&E slipped by 7%, Discovery was flat and ESPN went down by 9%.
Tim Brooks, senior VP of Lifetime, said cable as a category was up 7.8% in the ratings for August while the six broadcast networks fell by slightly over 8%. “In the last two summers, the networks put on powerhouse shows such as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and ‘Survivor,’ which cut into cable’s lead,” Brooks said.
But new reality series this summer such as NBC’s “Fear Factor” and “Spy TV” didn’t chalk up big enough audiences to keep broadcast TV from falling back in the Nielsens.
Cable’s solid summer helped 11 individual networks (out of the 43 analyzed by Turner Entertainment Research) show double-digit ratings gains year to year, with eight tumbling by double digits.
While Lifetime won the summer Nielsen household sweepstakes in primetime with a 2.1 rating average in cable homes, USA and TBS finished neck and neck among adults 18-49, and TNT beat its basic-cable rivals among adults 25-54. Lifetime wound up only fourth in primetime in both demographic categories.
Among the 22 programs that scored better than a 5 rating in cable homes during the summer (May 28 through Aug. 26), 13 were Monday-night World Wrestling Federation hours on TNN: The National Network. Two of the winning shows were a “Rugrats” hourlong special, the highest-rated individual summer show (with a 7.2 rating in cable homes), followed by a half-hour episode of the series on Nickelodeon July 21. Two more Nielsen successes were Sunday-afternoon Nascar races on TNT.
“Rush Hour” on TNT ended up the highest-rated theatrical movie of the summer, third over all with a 5.9 rating in cable homes, followed by USA’s first run of “The Waterboy.” Part one of “Mists of Avalon” on July 15 was the highest-rated original movie/miniseries at a 5.6 rating, although the second part fell off the next night to only a 4.0 rating. “The MTV Movie Awards” on June 7 tied for sixth place for the summer with a 5.6 rating.
The double-digit primetime cable-network gainers this summer, in order of their overall finish, were: Lifetime (up 24%), TNN (67%,), History (13%), CNN (17%), Fox News (40%) and BET (20%), Animal Planet (20%), TV Guide Channel (20%), Game Show Network (25%), Travel Channel (33%) and Hallmark Channel (33%, formerly Odyssey Channel).
The eight networks that plunged by double digits were (also in order of their finish): USA (down 18%), TBS (15%), American Movie Classics (10%), Learning Channel (11%), MTV (11%), Sci Fi Channel (11%), Fox Family (13%) and VH1 (20%).