ESPN No. 1 in Cable Ratings for 2014

ESPN was last year’s top dog in cable ratings, sweeping the key demo categories while also winning in total viewers — leap-frogging the likes of USA and Disney Channel, which traditionally battle for the top spot but slumped in 2014.

The sports network, whose telecast of the college football championship game last January was the year’s most-watched cable telecast (25.75 million viewers), edged ahead of TBS in adults 18-49 and 25-54 and bested Adult Swim in the 18-34 demo, according to Nielsen estimates. ESPN was one of seven top-40 networks to deliver year-over-year primetime gains in adults 18-49.

Other top-40 nets on the rise vs. 2013 in the demo were VH1 (up 6%), Investigation Discovery (up 9% to record highs), FXX (up 73%), WE tv (up 13%), Hallmark (up 8%) and OWN (up 7%). The Oprah Winfrey network, with a full year of scripted hit “The Haves and the Have Nots,” grew by double-digits for a third straight year — the only top-40 network to do so.

WE tv, meanwhile, shot up 37% in total viewership — more than any other top-40 network — in president Marc Juris’ first full year. “SWV Reunited,” “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars,” the continued popularity of “Braxton Family Values” and a big increase for “Kendra on Top” powered the gains.

Hallmark Channel, which was up across the board and ranked 21st in total viewers, had a strong finish to the year by airing more original holiday movies than ever before. The Nov. 29 title “Christmas Under Wraps” was one of the most popular telepics on any network for the year (6.44 million viewers).

Among networks outside of the top 40, notable gainers included Fox Sports 1 (up 28% in 18-49 and 38% in total viewers) in its first full year, CNBC (up 69% in the demo) and IFC, home to “The Spoils of Babylon” and “Portlandia” (up 20%).

American Heroes Channel (formerly the Military Channel) had the network’s best year to date in primetime time delivery of all major demos as well as total viewers. The original series “Gunslingers” is AHC’s No. 1 original series ever in prime delivery, averaging 503,000 total viewers and 183,000 adults 25-54.

Another smaller network on the rise is Velocity, which shot up in primetime by 22% in adults 18-49, 20% in total viewers and 33% in men 18-34. Rookie series “Bitchin’ Rides” contributed to the gains, as did returnees including “Fantomworks,” “Wheeler Dealers” and “Overhaulin.”

Turner was well represented among the year’s top cablers in 18-49, as TBS, Adult Swim and TNT (whose “The Last Ship” was the No. 2 new cable series) ranked among the top 10 in primetime. TBS was the No. 1 basic cable entertainment series in 18-49 for a third straight year, and Adult Swim hit a milestone by ranking No. 1 total-day among adults 18-34 for a 10th consecutive year.

USA joined A&E, Disney Channel and Tru TV (which underwent an extensive brand and programming refresh) as top-40 networks losing 20% or more of their audience vs. last year. Overall, 22 of the top 40 cable networks were down more than 5% in adults 18-49 from last year.


Adults 18-49

ESPN              990,000  (up 3% vs. last year)
TBS                 932,000  (down 14%)
USA                908,000  (down 14%)
FX                   767,000  (down 7%)
TNT                740,000  (down 12%)
Ad Swim         680,000   (down 10%)
Discovery        657,000   (down 5%)
AMC               656,000  (d0wn 5%)
History            643,000  (down 19%)
ABC Family    613,000   (down 2%)
Bravo             554,000   (down 6%)
A&E               543,000   (down 34%)
Food              494,000   (down 1%)
MTV              489,000   (down 5%)
Lifetime          480,000   (down 10%)
Syfy                475,000   (down 7%)
Comedy          472,000   (down 10%)
TLC                458,000   (down 3%)
Spike              451,000   (down 1%)
VH1                442,000   (up 6%)

Total Viewers

ESPN                2.28 million  (up 6%)
USA                   2.18 million  (down 20%)
TNT                   2.04 million  (down 4%)
Disney               1.94 million  (down 22%)
TBS                  1.87 million  (down 10%)
History              1.86 million  (down 14%)
Fox News         1.73 million   (even)
FX                     1.45 million  (down 4%)
Discovery         1.41 million  (up 1%)
AMC                  1.36 million  (down 5%)
HGTV               1.34 million  (up 5%)
Adult Swim        1.34 million  (down 11%)
Nick at Nite        1.31 million  (down 2%)
A&E                  1.27 million  (down 30%)
ABC Family        1.26 million  (down 2%)
Lifetime              1.13 million  (down 12%)
Syfy                   1.13 million  (down 7%)
Food                 1.09 million  (down 5%)
TLC                  1.08 million  (even)
Bravo                0.99 million  (down 3%)


(Live plus-7)

Adults 18-49 rating
1.  The Walking Dead (AMC), 10.0 rating
2.  NFL Monday Night Football (ESPN), 4.9
3.  Game of Thrones* (HBO), 4.8
4.  Sons of Anarchy (FX), 4.1
5.  American Horror Story (FX), 3.7
6.  Talking Dead (AMC), 3.3
7.  Duck Dynasty (A&E), 3.2
8.  True Blood* (HBO), 2.7
9.  Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta (VH1), 2.4
10.  Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo), 2.2
11.  Teen Mom II (MTV), 2.1
12.  Gold Rush (Discovery), 2.0
12.  Love & Hip-Hop (VH1), 2.0
14.  The Vikings (History), 1.9
14.  The Strain (FX), 1.9
14.  Bates Motel (A&E), 1.9
17.  Being Mary Jane (BET), 1.8
17.  The Last Ship (TNT), 1.8
19.  South Park (Comedy), 1.7
19.  Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood (VH1), 1.7
19.  The Game (BET), 1.7

Total Viewers (in millions)
1.  The Walking Dead (AMC), 19.81
2.  NFL Monday Night Football (ESPN), 13.23
3.  Game of Thrones* (HBO), 8.98
4.  Sons of Anarchy (FX), 7.77
5.  Duck Dynasty (A&E), 7.73
6.  Rizzoli & Isles (TNT), 7.62
7.  NFL Thursday Night Football (NFLN), 7.56
8.  American Horror Story (FX), 7.16
9.  The Last Ship (TNT), 6.88
10.  Major Crimes (TNT), 6.70
11.  Talking Dead (AMC), 6.30
12.  Longmire (A&E), 5.65
13.  Gold Rush (Discovery), 5.17
14.  Vikings (History), 5.03
15.  True Blood* (HBO), 4.89
16.  Murder in the First (TNT), 4.67
17.  Falling Skies (TNT), 4.66
18.  WWE Raw (USA), 4.63
19.  Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo), 4.60
20.  Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta (VH1), 4.47

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