ESPN parlayed massive audiences for its NFL Sunday and baseball playoff games into the best October Nielsen primetime ratings in its history, leaping 39% in total viewers compared with October 2002 — and claiming the No. 1 spot among basic-cable networks.
Five of the six highest-rated individual shows among total viewers for the month ran on ESPN: the Buffalo-Kansas City National Football League game Oct. 26 (9.2 million viewers), the San Francisco-Seattle NFL game Oct. 12 (8.9 million), the Atlanta-Chicago baseball playoff Oct. 3 (8.13 million), the Atlanta-Chicago contest Oct. 1 (7.42 million) and the Cleveland-Pittsburgh football game Oct. 5 (7.17 million).
ESPN’s dominance over its cable rivals extended to the three key adult demographics (18-49, 25-54 and 18-34); the network came in No. 1 in all three for October.
The only non-ESPN program in the top six was TLC’s “Trading Spaces: 100 Grand,” which finished second for the month, averaging 9.12 million total viewers.
Another monthly cable trend was the primetime strength displayed by kidvid networks. Disney Channel came in second overall in total viewers for the month, chalking up 2.2 million, a double-digit gain from October 2002. Nickelodeon was third with 2.02 million, flat from a year ago. Cartoon Network ranked sixth, its 1.79 million viewers representing a 5% jump from those of the same period in 2002.
Placing fourth for the month in primetime was TNT, which wound up with 1.98 million viewers, up 10% from a year ago. USA ended up fifth, harvesting 1.85 million, down 2%.
With sports events and children’s shows filling the top slots, only two theatrical movies broke into the top 50 shows for the month: TBS’ “Save the Last Dance,” in 32nd place with 3.9 million total viewers Oct. 5, and USA’s “Scarface,” in 46th place with 3.6 million in a four-hour cablecast Oct. 12.
One TV movie crept into the top 50: USA’s “D.C. Sniper” pulled 3.65 million total viewers Oct. 17.