Broadcast networks are trying to fill their summer primetime schedules with more fresh reality series like Fox’s “American Idol” and NBC’s “Dog East Dog,” but they haven’t put a dent in the steady advance of basic cable during the dog days of July.
Basic cable networks as a category broke the 50-share barrier in July for the first time, climbing by 8% to a 53 share from the 49-share average of July 2001. By contrast, the seven broadcast networks declined 12% in overall share, from a 42 in July 2001 to a 37 this month.
The ratings of a number of individual networks have latched on to cable’s prosperity, led by double-digit ratings growth in July for four of the nine networks that average better than a 1 primetime rating in cable households: USA, TNT, ESPN and Fox News Channel.
USA was crowing about its 12% increase in primetime ratings for July, propelling it to No. 2 overall behind Lifetime (which was down 5% from a year ago). “The Dead Zone” and “Monk,” two weekly hourlong series USA introduced this summer, have become the channel’s high-rated schedule bellwethers. USA also has been helped by solidly rated theatricals such as “Big Daddy,” with Adam Sandler, and “The Firm,” starring Tom Cruise.
TNT’s primetime rating this month was 13% higher than last July, ignited by the original movie “Door to Door” with William H. Macy, three straight nights of the network premiere of “The Thomas Crown Affair” and nightly reruns of “Law & Order.”
USA and TNT finished first and second, respectively, for the month in their core demographic, adults 25-54. USA was up 22% in the demo from July ’01 and TNT was up 9%. While down a bit in households for the month, Lifetime was up 6% in 25-54, good for third place.
ESPN wound up with the highest-rated individual program of the month, a 6.1 rating in cable homes for the annual “Home Run Derby,” which airs the night before baseball’s All-Star Game.
Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite ended up in the anomalous position of declining 6% in primetime in July to a 1.7 rating (putting it in a tie for fourth place with TBS, which was flat), but gaining 13% in total-day. Thanks to endless runs of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” by far the highest-rated kids show on cable, Nickelodeon has solidified its stranglehold on first place in total-day, its 1.7 average rating well above Cartoon Network’s 1.3 in second. Cartoon was flat year-to-year in total day and down 6% in primetime.
Ten cable networks nose-dived year-to-year by double digits. They are, in order of overall ratings: Discovery (a 0.9 rating, down 25%), TNN (0.9, off 10%), History Channel (0.8, down 11%), AMC (0.7, sliding 30%) and Comedy Central (0.6, falling 14%). Also down were TV Guide Channel (0.5, 17%), Gameshow Network (0.4, 20%), Soap Net (0.4, 50%), Travel Channel (0.3, 25%) and CNBC (0.2, 50%).
Ten other cable networks shot up by double digits: CNN (0.9 rating, up 29%), FX (0.9, 29%), MTV (0.9, 13%), Sci Fi Channel (0.9, 13%) and Court TV (0.8, 14%). Also gaining were TV Land (0.8, up 33%), ABC Family (0.7, 17%), HGTV (0.7, 17%), Hallmark Channel (0.5, 67%) and Country Music TV (0.3, 50%).