Cable viewership levels continue rise

Gap with Big Four shrinks when compared with '94 data

Basic cable as a category has added more viewers in the second quarter of 2003, widening its lead over the seven broadcast networks from 5.5 share points a year ago to 7.0 share points for the same period this year.

And even though the Big Four broadcasters still lead the top four basic cable networks in ratings, cable continues to narrow the gap, which has shrunk throughout the decade from an advantage of 4.7 rating points in the second quarter of 1994 to only 2.7 rating points during the same period this year.

Those data came out of a telephone conference call by researchers from Turner Broadcasting, who debriefed reporters on ratings for the second quarter.

Ripping reality

In a separate interview, Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for Lifetime, pointed to early signs of another potentially strong summer Nielsen performance for cable. “The broadcast networks are making a big deal out of all the new reality series they’re putting on this summer,” he said, “but so far, I don’t see any breakout hits.”

Brooks points to the decline each week in June of such original reality series as Fox’s “American Juniors” and NBC’s foursome: “For Love or Money,” “Crime & Punishment,” “Dog East Dog” and “Fear Factor.”

“The networks are overdoing the reality genre,” Brooks said, “and the numbers are beginning to show it.”

The Turner analysis, not surprisingly, stressed the robust ratings of Turner’s TNT, which finished first in primetime in the second quarter among total viewers and among the three key demographic categories: people 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54.

When Turner factored out news shows and children’s programming, it found that, among total viewers, seven of the top-10-rated individual shows for the second quarter were post-season NBA basketball games on TNT. The only non-basketball shows in the top 10 were FX’s original movie “44 Minutes,” which came in fourth with 6.1-million viewers; the “MTV 2003 Movie Awards,” which wound up seventh with 5.9 million; and the Lifetime original movie “Homeless to Harvard,” which chalked up 5.67 million.

Fox News Channel continues its dominance in the cable-news category, shooting up in primetime by 120% among people 25 to 54 in the second quarter and by 114% among people 18 to 49, thanks to its coverage of the war with Iraq.

Although it ended up well behind Fox News, CNN zoomed up by 99% in primetime among people 25 to 54 and by 102% among people 18 to 49. Third-place MSNBC also grew dramatically in second-quarter primetime, climbing by 77% in people 25 to 54 and by 85% in people 18 to 49.