Features dominate ratings race

Led by “Forrest Gump,” “Rush Hour 2,” “Armageddon,” “Mr. Deeds” and “Pretty Woman,” theatrical movies ruled the roost on ad-supported cable during the first quarter.

Theatricals constituted more than half of the 50 highest-rated programs in adults 18-49, with some of the pics engineered by cable networks as lead-ins to bolster season premieres of original series.

One goal of the report put together by Warner Bros.’ media-research division is to combat, or at least slow, the push by many cable nets to shift more of their programming budgets from movies to original and off-network series.

These budget shifts have driven the price of the average theatrical down from 15% of domestic box office to between 10% and 12%, with the major studios having to sell the same movies to two or three different nets within the same network window in order to meet their dollar targets.

Theatricals “are essential to a cable network’s programming mix,” said Eric Frankel, president of domestic-cable distribution for Warner Bros., citing their “pre-branded awareness” and the ability of many pics to keep drawing viewers even after dozens of runs, both on broadcast and on cable.

Three runs of “Forrest Gump” on TNT each finished in the top 20 among all basic-cable programs in 18-49, despite the fact that the movie had played eight times in previous years. Even more striking, two TNT runs of “Armageddon” landed in the top 20, although these were 44th and 45th plays overall.

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer of Turner Broadcasting, said that although theatricals are “significant components of the schedule,” TNT scores even bigger average numbers for the National Basketball Assn. All-Star Game and the NBA Playoffs and for original movies like Noah Wyle action thriller “The Librarian,” as well as hit original series like “The Closer.”

Warner Bros. researchers exclude sports, news and kids programming to heighten the comparison of theatricals with other entertainment shows such as original cable movies, specials and series like “South Park,” “Real World XVII” and “Monk.”

Under those ground rules, all 10 of TNT’s top-rated shows in adults 18-49 were movie slots (multiple runs of “Gump,” “Armageddon” and “Remember the Titans” and one run of “Rush Hour 2″), eight of TBS’ top 10 (led by “Rush Hour 2,” “Mr. Deeds” and “Pretty Woman”) and five of USA’s top 10 (highlighted by “American Wedding,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “American Pie II”).

In staying power, “Dirty Dancing” was a top-10 winner in 18-49 for Oxygen in its 170th and 171st run, and four of WE: Women’s Entertainment’s Nielsen victors were “Office Space” (92nd run), “Big” (89th), “It Could Happen To You” (81st) and “The Princess Bride” (79th).

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