B’cast nets lose ground

Net auds decline over summer

NEW YORK — The broadcast networks funneled a record number of original series to their summer schedules, hellbent on stopping rerun-hating viewers from tuning out. But, according to a survey of the third-quarter primetime ratings, the strategy didn’t work.

The 3.6% falloff in ratings by the seven broadcast networks during the third quarter (June 30 to Sept. 28) compared to the same period in 2002 was even steeper than the 3.1% decline between 2001 and 2002.

By contrast, basic cable as a category continued to pile up its almost ritual third-quarter primetime gains, climbing by 4.5% in the ratings compared to the third quarter of 2002.

Similarly, basic cable gained two share points (from 52 to 54) in the third quarter while the seven broadcasters were losing two shares (from 40 to 38).

Among individual cable networks, TNT continued to pull away from the pack in primetime, jumping by 12% in total viewers from the third quarter a year ago and beating No.-2-ranking Disney Channel by more than 3 million total viewers.

TNT also kept its wide primetime lead in adults 18 to 49 (2.5 million above those of No. 2 ESPN) and in adults 25 to 54 (3 million ahead of ESPN), with TNT up in both categories and ESPN down. The unstoppable “Law & Order” and a couple of primetime Nascar races stood out in TNT’s programming arsenal.

Among individual shows in the third quarter, four of the five highest-rated were NFL Sunday-night games on ESPN, which dominate the Nielsen charts every pro-football season. The only non-sports programs in the top 10 for the quarter were the “2003 Video Music Awards” on MTV Aug. 28 (10.7 million total viewers), the TBS original movie “Red Water” on Aug. 17 (6.9 million) and the Sandra Bullock theatrical “Miss Congeniality” July 6, also on TBS (6.3 million).

In addition to TNT, the following basic-cable networks grew by double digits in primetime among total viewers in the third quarter (ranked in order of their over-all finish): Disney Channel (up 43%), Fox News Channel (up 12%), Discovery Channel (up 11%) and MTV (up 12%).

Also, FX (up 19%), Court TV (up 19%), Hallmark Channel (up 57%), Food Network (up 12%), BET (up13%) and Bravo (up 80%).

Also, Lifetime Movie Network (up 28%), Soap Net (up 86%), VH1 (up 19%), Travel Channel (up 51%), Weather Channel (up 28%), Country Music TV (up 29%), and Toon Disney (up 17%).

The double-digit decliners (also in order of their over-all rank) are: Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite (down 10%), Lifetime (down 18%), USA Network (down 12%), ESPN (down 10%) and ABC Family (down 13%).

Also, TV Land (down 13%), CNN (down 16%), Game Show Channel (down 27%), MSNBC (down 26%),CNN Headline News (down 21%) and CNBC (down 30%).

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