TBS, Spike take plunge in ratings

Eight of the top 10 ad-supported cable networks dropped off in total-viewer ratings last week, six of them by double digits in primetime.

It’s extremely rare for that many of the top 10 to lose viewers, even in a one-week snapshot. The biggest decline hit fifth-place TBS, which plunged by 26% for the week ended Nov. 20 compared with the same week in 2004. Skidding by 20% was ninth-place Spike, which had the Monday night “WWE Raw” wrestling matches a year ago.

USA, which started running “Raw” on Oct. 10 after outbidding Spike for the rights, has parlayed Vince McMahon’s musclemen into a solid Nielsen fourth quarter among total viewers and the young male demographic. USA’s total-viewer ratings climbed by 20% for the week, running counter to the downbeat trend and propelling the network into first place.

The other double-digit losers for the week were second-place ESPN, off by 15%, and three networks that each went down by 16%: third-place TNT, sixth-place Nick at Nite and eighth-place Cartoon. Fourth-place Fox News was down 8% and seventh-place Lifetime off by 2%.

Tim Brooks, executive VP of research for Lifetime, called last week’s cable ratings an anomaly, saying that during the first three weeks of November the top 10 cable networks as a group averaged a 16.4 rating, a solid gain from the year-to-date average of 15.7.

On average, the top 10 cable networks have not lost viewers despite the higher visibility of smaller networks, Brooks said, because “they’re scheduling so much hot programming, from TNT’s ‘Closer’ to USA’s ‘Monk’ to Lifetime’s ‘Beach Girls’ miniseries.”

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