Ad-supported cable nabs best-ever share

Cable TV’s record number of original series this summer is paying Nielsen dividends.

Ad-supported cable, as a category, averaged its best-ever audience share in July with 62.6%, while broadcast nets hit a record-low 28.1%.

Tim Brooks, exec VP of research for Lifetime, said that feeding off exclusive new scripted series — notably Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” TNT’s “Saving Grace” USA’s “Burn Notice” and TBS’ “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” — cable TV continues to widen its lead over broadcast for the summer months.

But it was a commercial-free basic cabler, Disney Channel, that finished No. 1 in primetime for July, harvesting more viewers on average — 3 million — than in any other month in the net’s history. Driving Disney Channel’s numbers were multiple telecasts of its series “Hannah Montana,” “The Suite Life” and “Cory in the House” and repeats of its original movies “High School Musical” and “Return to Halloweentown.”

Among Disney’s ad-supported brethren in primetime, USA came in first, although in a virtual tie with second-place TNT. USA, down 15% from July 2006, suffered some declines in its “WWE Raw” Monday-night wrestling powerhouse, which may be feeling the effects of wrestler Chris Benoit’s June 24 murder of his wife and son and his subsequent suicide. The ratings of the net’s long-running Sunday-night original series “The 4400″ and “Dead Zone” also have begun softening.

By contrast, TNT’s total-viewer primetime number was up 5% in July over a year earlier, and the four segs of TNT’s “The Closer” ended up as the four highest-rated individual shows in basic cable for the month in total viewers.

Three networks stood out among the top 10 for July in total viewers: fifth-place Discovery, up 17%; ninth-place A&E, up 21%; and 10th-place ABC Family, up 13%.

MSNBC was the big July story in 24-hour news, with total viewers in primetime shooting up 54%, a bigger jump than that of any other net in the top 50 thanks to shows hosted by Keith Olbermann and Dan Abrams plus documentaries in the 10 o’clock hour. But MSNBC is still behind Fox News, which finished in sixth place overall in primetime (although down by 14%) and behind CNN (in 25th place, down by 17%).

In addition to Discovery, A&E, ABC Family and MSNBC, the following networks saw total viewers in primetime grow by double digits in July, in order of their overall finish: Court TV (up 39%), History Channel (up 12%), TLC (up 29%), Food (up 11%), VH1 (up 20%), Bravo (up 15%) and CMT (up 13%).

Also up were CNN Headline News (up 30%), National Geographic Channel (up 15%), Oxygen (up 14%), Toon Disney (up 22%), Style (up 93%), CNBC (up 28%) and Nick Toons (up 18%).

Also, Noggin/the N (up 42%), Science Channel (up 21%), Discovery Times (up 115%), Golf (up 12%), MTV2 (up 23%), History Intl. (up 57%), Military Channel (up 80%), ESPN News (up 20%) and Fuse (up 67%).

On the down side, the following networks join USA, Fox News and CNN in plunging by double digits in primetime, also in order of their overall finish: TBS (down 15%), Cartoon (down 10%), Nick at Nite (down 18%), ESPN (down 20%), MTV (down 12%), Comedy Central (down 16%), TV Land (down 14%) and BET (down 29%).

Also dropping were Animal Planet (down 16%), the Weather Channel (down 21%), TV Guide Network (down 20%), GSN (down 30%), Discovery Health (down 19%), Biography Channel (down 10%), ESPN Classic (down 34%) and BBC America (down 24%).

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