Lifetime on track to top '02 primetime ratings

NEW YORK– The ad-supported cable networks, which almost always lose viewers during the broadcast-sweep periods, actually climbed up in the ratings this November by 5%.

That’s the word from Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for Lifetime, who said that, by contrast, viewership of the six broadcast networks fell by 6% in November.

Nielsen reports that 29.57 million households were watching ad-supported cable networks this month (up from 27.93 million last November), while 33.74 million households watched an average minute of primetime on the broadcast nets (down from 35.27 million).

Brooks chalked up the sweeps turnaround to what he called “the lack of programming that the broadcasters could really sell to their viewers. The sweeps didn’t really come up with one of those programming shootout Sundays until the final week,” when CBS’ original biopic “Martin and Lewis” went head to head with ABC’s ripped-from-the-headlines made-for “The Pennsylvania Miners’ Story.”

For the season to date (through Sunday), the six broadcast nets were down 2% year-to-year in overall audience (an average of 54.77 million viewers from 55.84 million a year ago). Basic cable was up 1% (42.69m vs. 42.47m) and pay cable was up 6% (5.44m vs. 5.13m).

The big story in cable primetime for November was ESPN’s dominance. It averaged a huge 2.4 rating in cable homes, propelled by the five highest-rated individual programs for the month: four Sunday-night NFL cablecasts and a Nov. 21 college-football contest.

ESPN’s rating was up by 33% from November 2001. Second-place Lifetime, at a 1.8 rating in cable homes, was down by 5%.

But Lifetime is a shoo-in to finish first in primetime for calendar 2002 because it won each of the first nine months of the year, giving it a commanding lead over its nearest competitor.

In addition to ESPN, 12 cable networks engineered double-digit gains in primetime during November. They are, in order of their competitive ranking: TLC (a 1.1 rating, up 38%), Sci Fi Channel (1.0, up 43%), MTV (0.8, up 14%), Court TV (0.7, up 17%), HGTV (0.7, up 17%) and ESPN2 (0.6, up 20%)

Also, Food Network (0.6, up 20%), E! Entertainment TV (0.5, up 25%), Gameshow Network (0.5, up 25%), Hallmark Channel (0.5, up 25%), Bravo (0.4, up 33%) and VH1 (0.4, up 33%).

The bad news for cable is that a bigger number of cable networks than usual — 17 — plunged by double digits in primetime. They are, also in rank order: TBS (1.4, down 30%), A&E (0.9, down 10%), CNN (0.9, down 25%), Discovery Channel (0.9, down 10%), TNN (0.8, down 20%), TV Land (0.7, down 13%), AMC (0.6, down, 14%) and Comedy Central (0.6, down 14%).

Also, BET (0.5, down 17%), FX (0.5, down 17%), Soap Net (0.5, down 29%), MSNBC (0.4, down 43%), TV Guide Channel (0.4, down 20%), WGN superstation (0.4, down 20%), CNBC (0.2, down 50%), CNN Headline News (0.2, down 33%) and Great American Country (0.1, down 50%).

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