‘South’ heads north

MSOs: 'We want our Com Central'

EXCLUSIVE
With Wednesday’s episode of the arch animated hit “South Park” breaking the ratings record at Comedy Central for the fourth consecutive time with a firstrun installment, the network says it’s receiving calls from MSOs eager to add the channel to their systems.

Despite Comedy Central’s subscriber penetration of just over 46 million cable and satellite homes — fewer than half of the TV households in America — it is generating numbers from “South Park” that are rapidly turning the web, which is jointly owned by Time Warner and Viacom, into a significant cable player.

Jesus vs. Satan

The Wednesday night segment that featured a pay-per-view fight between Jesus Christ and Satan (complete with introductions from famed ring announcer Michael Buffer) pulled in a 6.4 rating in the Comedy Central universe, or an estimated 3 million homes and 5.6 million viewers.

That smashed the previous network record of 5.4 (set in December by “South Park’s” Christmas episode) by a full point, and continued the show’s phenomenal upward progression — from previous highs of 4.8 for the Thanksgiving-themed show in November and 3.8 for a Halloween seg in October.

As a means of comparison, Comedy Central attracted a .7 average primetime rating during the month of January. Basking in buzz

With the high numbers, along with the wave of publicity circulating around “South Park,” (it’s featured on the current covers of both Rolling Stone and Spin magazines), the network is beginning to field scads of inquiries from cable ops about launching the channel.

Brad Samuels, Comedy Central’s senior VP for affiliate sales, acknowledged on Friday that “South Park” may be the first show in the history of cable to actually drive future carriage of a network.

“Operators are calling us now, and that simply doesn’t happen,” Samuels said. The network added 5 million subscribers to its total in 1997, and Samuels says that the building “South Park” phenomenon could lead to Comedy Central doubling that total in ’98. “If we take advantage of what’s going on here in the right way, anything’s possible,” Samuels added.

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