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USA leads cable pack

Network finishes first in the key demos

Ad-supported cable roared to a 51.9 average primetime Nielsen share in February, climbing above the seven broadcast networks’ average by 7.5%, fueled in part by double-digit gains by Lifetime, A&E, Court TV, AMC and Hallmark Channel.

A year ago February, the picture was totally reversed, with broadcast showing a 9% primetime lead over cable. Tim Brooks, executive VP of research for Lifetime, said the shares of NBC (which aired 17 nights of the Winter Olympics) and ABC (which aired the Super Bowl) each fell dramatically February to February, and the combination of the CW and MyNetworkTV ended up more than 2 share points below last February’s numbers for the WB and UPN.

Among individual cable networks, USA, the No. 1 cable channel in 2006, is on a roll in 2007, finishing first in the key demos of 18-49 and 25-54 as well total primetime viewers, following an equally dominant January.

Vince McMahon’s wrestlers are USA’s meal ticket: Five of the 10 most-watched individual programs in February were one-hour editions of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday-night “Raw” series. Two original episodes of USA’s hit series “Monk” also secured top-10 slots for the month.

Even though the “NBA All-Star Game” scored 6.84 million viewers on Feb. 18, making it easily the highest-rated program of the month, TNT still wound up third to USA, plunging by double digits in viewers and in the three key demos: 18-49, 25-54 and 18-34. Disney Channel, whose demo target is kids 6 to 14, and which enjoys a big advantage over its ad-supported rivals in not accepting 30-second spots, continued its firm hold on second place.

TBS came in fourth in total primetime viewers, and its potent lineup of sitcom reruns like “Family Guy,” “Sex and the City,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Friends” catapulted the network into first place among those 18-34, a demographic that Madison Avenue pays a premium for.

Lifetime parlayed TV-movie adaptations of the Nora Roberts’ bestsellers “Angels Fall,” “Montana Sky” and “Carolina Moon” into a fifth-place finish in total viewers, up 14% from February 2006.

A&E and Court TV each delivered their best February numbers ever, A&E shooting up by 52% (good for sixth place) and Court TV by 33% (12th place).

AMC (No. 15) rose by 33% and Hallmark (16) by 10%. Other double-digit primetime gainers include HGTV, TLC, CNN and VH1.

Nielsen delivered bad report cards to some major cable networks. In order of their overall finish, TNT and Cartoon Network each dropped by 14%, Nick at Nite by 23%, ESPN by 12%, Spike TV by10% and BET by 16%.

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