Hit Cable Series on the Rise as Broadcasters Suffer Record-Low Ratings

Hit Cable Series on the Rise

Cable is feeling pretty good about its prospects in this year’s upfront advertising sales derby

(From the pages of the March 26 issue of Variety.)

Amid a backdrop of record-low ratings for some broadcast shows, cable is feeling pretty good about its prospects in this year’s upfront advertising sales derby.

For the season, ad-supported cable as a group has opened up a bigger ratings advantage over the Big Four – and has beaten the broadcasters in the 18-49 demo on a regular basis in a handful of timeslots. But cablers still feel slighted by Madison Avenue because they rarely command ad rates that are commensurate with broadcasters.

That may not change this year, but the tipping point feels like it’s getting closer.

Cable has made headlines with monster numbers for its graphic zombie drama “The Walking Dead” — which is as big as anything on broadcast among young adults — and some hot reality shows like A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” (pictured above) and History’s “Pawn Stars.” At the same time, the Big Four — especially NBC — have endured media coverage that constantly refers to “record low” weekly averages.

“Cable has done a good job of hitting us where we ain’t (with male-skewing, cutting-edge shows),” says one network research exec. “But the breadth of the broadcasters’ top programs can’t be matched at this time.”

Sure, the February averages for a few scripted cable series (“Walking Dead,” ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” and TBS’ “Cougar Town”) were higher than some of the month’s historically low broadcast duds (ABC’s “Zero Hour,” NBC’s “Guys With Kids” and “Smash,” CBS’ “The Job”). And all of these were bigger than NBC’s “Do No Harm,” whose 0.9 rating in adults 18-49 is the lowest ever for a Big Four premiere.

But if you take out the top two original scripted series for February (CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and “Walking Dead”), the next 48 scripted series all aired on broadcast networks, according to live plus same-day Nielsen averages.

Advertisers have been earmarking more money for cable networks in recent years during the upfronts, but the simple fact is that buying a cable schedule that matches the reach of a single broadcast net’s primetime offerings is a challenge. Cable’s hits are spread across a number of outlets, many of them with different corporate parents. Cobbling together a schedule of “Walking Dead,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Cougar Town” might reach a lot of viewers between 18 and 49, but would require negotiating with AMC Networks, Disney and Time Warner’s Turner, with little hope of getting a big discount for buying heavy inventory across programs.

Cable does have its time in the spotlight — including nights like this coming Sunday when the finales of “Walking Dead” and History mini “The Bible” go head-to-head — but during times like sweep months, when everybody is airing originals, the broadcasters still dominate the adults 18-49 scripted rankers.

And cable is not without its own embarrassingly low ratings, including TNT’s David E. Kelley drama “Monday Mornings,” which bowed in February with a minuscule 0.3 in adults 18-49 and 1.34 million viewers — the lowest ever scripted premiere on a major cabler.

Much of cable’s ratings strength is generated by unscripted programming, for which advertisers typically don’t pay as much. In addition to “Duck Dynasty” and “Pawn Stars,” other shows that have beaten the broadcasters head-to-head in demos include MTV’s “Teen Mom” and Discovery’s “Gold Rush.”

In other words, for cablers, it’s more than just a matter of getting their Ducks in a row.

(Brian Steinberg contributed to this report.)

Cablers to Watch

As upfront season kicks into high gear, keep an eye on these players:


After testing out critically praised but ratings-challenged shows such as “Damages” and “Terriers,” News Corp.’ flagship entertainment cabler has locked on to a schedule stocked with high-octane dramas like “Sons of Anarchy,” “Justified” and “American Horror Story” and edgy comedies “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Louie” and “Wilfred.”
RATINGS: Averaging 947,000 viewers in adults 18-49 for the season across all dayparts, up from 904,000 during the same period last season.
AD SALES: About $503.2 million in 2012, compared with about $506.1 million in 2011, according to SNL Kagan
PROGRAMMING FEES: 48¢ per subscriber in 2012, compared with 45¢ in 2011, according to SNL Kagan
HEAT SEEKER: FX is looking for ratings growth for buzzy new drama The Americans, which has been renewed.

* * *


Call this the start of the “Rizzoli & Isles” years, now that the Turner outlet no longer has “The Closer” in its arsenal.
RATINGS: Averaged 735,000 viewers in adults 18-49 for the season to date, compared with 718,000 in the year-ago period.
AD SALES: About $1.04 billion in 2012, compared with about $955.4 million in 2011.
PROGRAMMING FEES: $1.18 per subscriber in 2012, compared with $1.13 in 2011
HEAT SEEKER: With “Dallas” showing softness, TNT needs to beef up its drama bench. Frank Darabont period drama “L.A. Noir” could provide a lift.

* * *


The crown jewel of NBCUniversal’s cablers, USA has experienced some ratings struggles in recent months. Heavily dependent on reruns of “NCIS” and “Law & Order: SVU,” USA has seen primetime ratings ebb (though it’s not alone) as those selections mature.
RATINGS: Averaging 1.03 million adults 18-49 across all dayparts, compared with 1.14 million last year.
AD SALES: About $1.043 billion in 2012, compared with roughly $1.042 billion in 2011.
PROGRAMMING FEES: 68¢ per subscriber in 2012, compared with 65¢ in 2011
HEAT SEEKER: USA is banking on “Modern Family” reruns this fall to draw new viewers. Will it have an original comedy companion to capitalize on its pricey acquisition?

– Brian Steinberg

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  1. You can definitely see your expertise within the work you write.
    The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to
    say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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  3. Perry says:

    I think USA is going to loose the big gamble. Like most network programming, the Neilson’s are inaccurate. Modern family will do nothing to save USA. Now that I know it is owned by nbcuniversal, it will be very low on my list of channels to watch. FX will score big if they would put Justified on regularly instaed of piece meal. I really wasn’t aware that cbs, nbc, and abc were still broadcasting. Lear something new every day.

  4. gando says:

    More foul language on cable. More violence. And LESS political correctness. The worst being MS/C/NBC

  5. PJ Morgan says:

    Cut cable over 2 years ago, got an antenna, stream Netflix to both of my TVs…saved around $1,000 a year and I don’t miss out on a thing. Yes, I’m a season behind on Walking Dead, but I’m also watching tons of other shows (like Dr. Who from 2005 to now) that I’ve missed in the past while I wait. I see no reason to ever pay for TV channels again.

  6. JAH666 says:

    Less than 1% that is produced, whether cable or bradcast by the dinosaur networks, is worth wasting time and energy watching. Turned it all off at the end of the 90s’ and haven’t looked back. Use internet and Netflix. Same goes for movies. It’s all worthless junk!

  7. John Smith says:

    I blame sit coms for the dumbing down of America. The “sit com” brain is a jelly filled brain that votes democrat every 2 years like a puppet, no thought required.

  8. William S says:

    One need only watch an evening of MeTV vs current network offerings to understand just how stupid and poorly done network TV has become compared to the 1960’s.

  9. Ra says:

    AMC cannot be beaten. Not just The Walking Dead but also Breaking Bad & Mad Men.

    • Sharon Lee says:

      Mad Men is a total jewel of a television series. Mad Men has plenty of sick and degenerate goings on, however, it is pretty right on for the era and the class of professional advertising characters that are featured in the show. I can hardly wait until Mad Men begins its new season. I try to watch all of the re-runs before each new season, just to re-acquaint myself with the evolvement of each character. I think that the casting of the show is incredible and magical. I give the constant depravity displayed within almost all of the players some exception, as it is an exceedingly well-done series overall. It could still be incredible and totally entertaining without all of the constant negativity. Where did the happy medium go?

      I was a young adult from the mid 1950’s, 60’s and through the 1970’s. I remember the clothes, the culture and the politics of the day and the attitudes among men and women. I feel that the 1960’s was one of our worst decades. Assassinations, hippies running rampant with sex and drugs, communes and with no discernible moral values, other than self-gratification and holding anti-war signs with a joint hanging out of their mouths. The hippies were just anti-everything. I got the impression that they had lost the ability to be normal. Yes, I said normal. They were a sick anomaly in our culture that has had a horrible effect that has lasted decades. See how a few can ruin it for the majority of good-hearted people. Dirty, drugged young men and women ranting against war with wilted flowers in their hair and if they could run naked or fornicate in the street, which some of them actually did, really did not add anything positive to our civilized culture.

      Some hippies were actually highly educated and are directly to blame for inculcating our children over the last 30 -40 years with their sick and depraved socialistic theories, instead of teaching the Constitution of the United States and what it really means and how to be an American. The now retiring (Thank God!) old hippies have been the scourge upon our educational and legal systems. Radical leftist college professors, have had only one central theme. They have an intense dislike of being associated and living in a constitutionally designated representative republic with a capitalist system. They virtually want to and in some cases have, (temporarily) eliminated some of our greatest inherited virtues, values and policies that are truly redeeming for all human beings. We will take it back from them, wait and see.

      The hippie driven 1960’s began to have an effect on everything in television, slowly but surely. With the hippies now running just about everything, they had great sway on what we saw and heard and it progressively (pun intended) created a cesspool of degrading and nauseating television as the decades marched on.

      However, some of the network television was new and exciting during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Sitcoms were truly funny without going gross at every turn of the half hour alloted. I Love Lucy, the Dick Van Dyke Show and so many other great productions with fantastic actors, are still watched today and for some of the viewers, the nostalgia it evokes is palpable. It used to be, that being a comedian was truly an art and it was done without delving into the complete stupidity and depravity of the human experience that is now seen on almost every sitcom and reality show. We do not need to see people defecating and fornicating in every other scene to hold our interests. That is not the reality that we want or need to see in every production. To be funny and not depraved is truly a lost art.

  10. Jeff D. says:

    All politics aside, this is about content and quality. Nothing being put out by the networks right now can touch the Walking Deads, American Horror Stories, and Breaking Bads of the world. Cable TV, because of their freedom to produce edgier material and willingness to invest in what is essentially movie quality productions, has a major advantage. While I deplore ridiculous reality shows about ducks and pawn shops and storage units, I also believe we have been in something of a golden age for scripted TV drama for years now. Going back to the beginning of the Sopranos, we’ve seen writing on cable television which does NOT treat the viewer like they’re complete idiots. Some people are still satisfied with the simplistic writing of network sitcoms, and that’s fine. There’s no law that says you should be using your brain when consuming television. But that doesn’t appeal to a huge portion of the audience. Good writing sells, and the cable networks have figured that out.

    • Sharon Lee says:

      The entire problem with television is because radical liberal management, producers and creative personnel, put their political beliefs and more often than not, their depraved morals and lack of common sense upon the public, while telling the worn-out lie, which is, “This is what the public wants”. By constantly regurgitating that LIE, the stupid among us begin to believe it and here we are with networks that are failing because of putting their politics first. That IS where it begins with the networks and some in cable production as well. This is why the networks are failing. They had better STOP while they have the chance. Otherwise, even with a few so-called “winners”, they will be obsolete sooner rather than later.

  11. roccotool says:

    “It’s the commercials, stupid!”

  12. matt says:

    the ‘progressives’ can’t resist infusing their propaganda not only into their news programs, but also into their dramas and sitcoms.
    everything is aimed at the lowest common denominator, and the downward spiral continues.

  13. KG1 says:

    You know the line up of shows suck when after clicking through 70 channels I end up settling for watching the last 15 minutes of Spongebob Squarepants.

  14. Arch Stanton says:

    Age 50-65 group.
    Do not watch network programming – a total insult to anyone remotely intelligent.
    Alternate programming on cable groups is more entertaining, interesting.
    i.e., no liberal propaganda, Charlie Sheen promos, or watching good shows like Life which Died w/o being given a chance.

  15. Dax RT says:

    Liberals ruined the networks, must be W’s fault right? Liberal movies suck and usually get pretty low ratings, especially compared to conservative movies. Duck Dynasty is a great show because it has good morals and is actually funny. They point out how “redneck” they are and they are proud of it, and they should be.

  16. azarkhan says:

    I only watch football and basketball on CBS, ABC and NBC. Those networks, along with PBS, CNN and MSLSD, are part of the propaganda arm of the Dumbocratic Party.

  17. Leadrunner says:

    I do have admit that CBS has some good shows. Tuesday is Jethro, Wednesday the Americans, and Thursday is Person of Interest and Elementary. We do watch the local NBC affiliate for early morning. They have a good local crew, but that is the only time NBC is on our set. Otherwise, early evening is Fox News and almost never any of the big four. No MSNBC, CNN, HLN, or any of that crap. They are garbage.

  18. rocketscientistman says:

    TV sux. Real great series are killed way too early, some not making past the first season or the pilot episode. Some reasonable decent shows are boringly dragged on for way too many seasons.

    They’re losing their ability to force you to watch meaningless mind numbing/programming garbage. And, they have lost their IMAGINATION. Hire some them creative writers that aren’t stuck in lalaland and what the perfect world should look like.

  19. Dorothy Lewis says:

    Why I hate watching standard network shows….they put a show on and then cancel it after 3 weeks. The only thing that network stations seem to be be good for are mindless reality shows. Put a show on where you have to actually think and they cancel it.

  20. Jim Silver says:

    I never watch much cable until a friend told me about MSNBC—that was absolutely the worst. Bull crap, dishonest people, mean spirited…I canceled Comcast..will not.pay for that crap. Comcast seems to be an extreme left wing company…I suppose with Obama and Holder MSNBC has a free hand

  21. mascmen7 says:

    BBC, RT.COM are news sites from UK and Russia that are not controlled by 6 Jewish families as all our USA TV networks are. Al Jazeera may be coming online soon and they actually report news as does BBC and RT.com Jewish lies on USA networks has given us a Kenyan born, Russian communist educated president and his $17 trillion national debt which will destroy our nation as Obama Royal family jets the world on constant vacations at great expense. Ditto Biden spending half a million a night at Paris hotels. Obama is spending more money on his vacations than All of the British Royal Family and we have no Buckingham Palace, horses, carriages, gawdy costumes and crowns.

  22. MARY MCKENDRY says:

    please cable companies add THE BLAZE to your shows, it is the only news broadcast that we can watch that actually report the authentic news!!!!

    • Sharon Lee says:

      Hear! Hear! or Here! Here!

      I know that Dish carries ‘The Blaze” 24/7 News Channel. I do not care for Dish. I am waiting until DirecTV gets super smart and includes “The Blaze” as an option in their programming choices, the sooner the better!

      Where satellite is making a big mistake:

      Al Gore, the well-known, so-called former vice president, the spoiled child, the pot-bellied dirty old man, the carbon footprint scammer, who has made hundreds of millions telling and selling his so-called global warming, climate change nonsense to the stupid and over-educated elite. Not only has he scammed the ignorant and others, he has sold out to the friend of our enemies. Yes, I said it. That is exactly what he did. If DirecTV carries Al Jazeera, I WILL protest by canceling some of my additional programming.

  23. CJ Fox says:

    With the exception of only a few shows (Castle, The Mentalist, Bones, Drop Dead Diva), I HATE modern televison. It has become low-class reality mania. WHY would I ever watch people that I could care less about? Yet it dominates my television lineup.

    That being said – does anyone have a solution for me? I would love to get rid of the 180 stations on my basic cable subscription (seriously … 180 channels and nothing to watch!), and receive only a few good ones. I’m not technologically gifted (ha!), and have no idea how to deal with this. I would love to cancel my cable and find something else that offers good entertainment.

    We have only one cable company here, and I feel trapped. I also have my internet with them.

  24. Justin says:

    Only time i ever watch network TV is for sports. Other than that, it’s Justified, The Americans, South Park, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Suits, Mad Men. The fact is, network TV just can’t come close to making shows like this on television. They still do lame laugh track ‘comedies’ that aren’t even funny, or some stupid spinoff of American Idol, or celebrities doing things like dancing or diving.

  25. Dude says:

    Cable is so 80s.

  26. Cablecansukkit says:

    Pay over $100 a month for “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child”? I don’t think so.

    Nice propaganda there, but everyone knows that cable is crap, and expensive crap at that.

  27. Cablecansukkit says:

    Nice propaganda, but everyone knows that cable is getting too expensive, and all there is there is garbage like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child”.

    Pay over $100 a month for that? I don’t think so.

  28. The Warrant says:

    Interesting this article ignores the current very-high-ratings cable series The Bible. I wonder why?
    I turned off my cable and broadcast several years ago and do not regret it. The few good shows are not enough to justify all of the junk and trash and brain-washing garbage. Graphic sex and violence and profanity and urban culture filth is the norm. Any series I really want to see, I wait for the DVD to come on sale.
    Time to keep turning our backs on the Hollywood brain-trashing machine.
    Why support dysfunctional losers with multi-million dollar lifestyles? These people would otherwise by at the bottom of the income ladder instead of parading their personal pathos, relationship dysfunctions, substance abuse, and generally insane behavior and misleading another generation of our youth.

  29. anderann says:

    I vowed never to watch another Broadcast series after the on one week off two weeks on three weeks off one week scheduling. Then after one season they cancel the show and I feel like I’ve wasted my time watching it. As for cable they are more dependable. Every week Walking Dead comes on. Cable also gives programs more time to take off. After the cancelling of The Event I made my pledge and have stuck to it. Never again will I invest my time on a new broadcast series.

  30. Lee says:

    The alphabet networks deserve to dry up and blow away just for their mindless, biased, left wing support of characters like obama and his minions.

  31. Ray Seetan says:

    I refuse to watch anything on the big four networks and I don’t make purchases from any of the companies I know advertise on them. Until these networks fix their biased (so called) news reporting they have nothing I want to see.

  32. Atlasobjectivist says:

    I just got tired of the former big three constantly pushing Obama down our throats.

  33. Kala says:

    People are sick of the trash on TV and the continual political swipes inserted into every type of programming. Cable TV will be on the wane soon as well.

  34. aubreyfarmer says:

    I have watched the slow death of the entertainment industry for years. It isn’t a mystery to me why the networks keep loosing viewers. Network execs are a bunch of perverts and program according to their own desires. Most of the sitcoms produced in the last 20 years can’t get past the first few lines of dialogue before someone starts talking about sex. It isn’t funny anymore. It is stale. Come up with some original writing about interesting topics and see how that works at boosting ratings. I am so sick of shows promoting cops as heros that I don’t watch any of them at all. I won’t even watch one long enough to see whether or not it is any good. When I watch shows like Andy Griffith or Leave it to Beaver I am still entertained. Even after seeing these programs before I still enjoy the humor. The shows were not loaded with sexual inuendo and dirty language. Sad to say but I don’t see the execs at the major networks changing course. I don’t know if it is because they are serving an agenda of destroying everything that is decent and wholesome or if it is just because they are too wicked to see that everyone else doesn’t think like them. The way programming is on most of the neworks today I would just as soon see all of them disappear.

  35. Chris says:

    Good stories, Sex, Swearing, and lack of commercials sells. The only people that are surprised are the people trying to shield everyone from everything they deem unclean. I’ve watched British TV and Cable pretty much exclusively for quite some time, they treat people like adults and try not to sensor everything.

  36. Jasmine Rose says:

    The Blaze TV BEATS them all !! ,Sick of all the propaganda and lies from main stream media !
    Do not like shows with taped laughter,! Is that suppose to make it funny ?? It does NOT !
    Modern family sucks , saw the premiere and said this is funny ? NOT! So far from reality of normal families , they do not get it ! Duck Dynasty is great., that is a real family ! Hollywood is out of touch with reality ! Other alternatives Netfiix oy Amaxon Prime. Fox is the best of mainstream.
    The Bible on Histroy ROCKS !

  37. Answer: Testosterone
    Network metrosexual anti-family propaganda is failing .In comes cable.

    Quite simplel dummies. The market has spoken.

    Still clueless?

  38. If cable is doing so well then they should lower their rates already. I’m paying $200 a month for cable and internet when I hardly use it. That’s a freaking car payment!

  39. maxsnafu says:

    Given how shot through with Leftist agitprop “Monday Mornings” is–like EVERY show David Kelly is responsible for–I’m not surprised its ratings are dreadful. Who’s going to volunteer to be hectored to?

  40. Marine Mick says:

    My wife watches HGTV, What Not To Wear, and Say Yes To The Dress. I don’t! We watch: Hawaii Five O; The Mentalist; Castle; and Blue Bloods. That’s it for Network TV, and we generally record all of them, therefore we skip through the commercials. We also watch: Halmark TV; Halmark Movie; I watch: TCM; AMC; TV Land; METV; History Ch; Military Ch; and a lot of 30’s, 40’s, 50’s 60’s movies on DVD, as well as a lot of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Erroll Flyy, Bogey movies on DVD. The Networks have been dead ever since they sold out to liberalism/communism/marxism.

    Semper Fi all.

    Marine Mick

  41. Must be that broadcast is just old school. The same tired old ideas and formats. Those days are gone. They just don’t know what people want anymore.

  42. Even “The Good Wife”, and “Community”, have turned into the same crap that “Smash” always was. The Broadcast Networks are correctly ‘circling the drain’, and absolutely no one cares.

    They are as doomed and archaic as the MPAA and the RIAA. And, they are simply Propaganda.

    The old ‘Pravda’ would be proud. They are being rejected on a massive scale, and rightly so.

    We await the new seasons of ‘Boardwalk Empire’, ‘The Newsroom’, and many others on Cable.

    Internet domination waits in the wings, as well.

  43. s says:

    everyones online, big deal

  44. Mark says:

    How behind the times! How many of you have switched to steaming video rather then scheduled viewing based on the networks schedule and over the cable/airwaves?

    I’m sure a big chunk of the story is still off the table becasue nielson has not figured out how to rate the streaming viewership as of yet.

  45. cali says:

    So much television appears to have an agenda in each show. I swear the writers seem to want to get a personal political issue across in each episode, but still fill it with profanity, and sexuality. They appear to try and hide it, but it always comes out so strong it dominates the show. Some of just get tired of watching all the P.C. B.S..

  46. Balck says:


  47. notv says:

    The TV shows are a reflection of their audience or at least how the producers of that crap see their audience.

  48. Lance Sterling says:

    I’d rather watch re-runs of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives then anything on ABC or NBC. The only show I watch on CBS is NCIS. BTW, before I get knee-jerk liberal responses, I do not watch FOX either.

  49. The networks writers are stale, in general, are unoriginal and almost always try to push their social agendas on the public. It gets boring very quickly when you think you are being constantly manipulated.

  50. It is not even possible to watch the networks without laughing..every crime show is the same…its always the Middle aged white guy.

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