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Summer Ratings: Discovery Shines, But Many Cable Networks Take a Tumble

With the number of scripted television offerings spreading the viewer pool ever thinner, and more Americans turning to streaming video online, primetime ratings for many of the heavyweight cable entertainment networks continue to decline.

History, A&E, ESPN and MTV were top-20 networks shedding 25% or more of their adults 18-49 audience this summer, while USA, TBS, TNT, FX, VH1 and Bravo were other top-tier networks to lose more than 15% of their audience, according to Nielsen “most current” estimates for the June 1-Aug. 30 summer session.

TNT and USA have long been the summer cable leaders when it comes to original dramas, and they have been among the hardest hit by what’s been a virtual across-the-board ratings decline for returning scripted series and a lack of new breakout hits. They’ve also been stung by fading numbers for off-net repeats of broadcast hits.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke forecast some difficult years for cable networks last November and media stocks have been beat up in recent weeks amid concerns that the cable business is losing ground to video streaming services like Netflix and that ad rates will continue to decline.

Overall, the top 10 cable entertainment networks averaged a 0.45 rating in adults 18-49 and 1.52 million viewers overall this summer, down 12% and 9% from last year, respectively. This is in contrast to the broadcast networks, which were down a combined 2% in the demo and flat in overall audience thanks mostly to strong performances by core reality programs.

Among the notable cable exceptions this summer was Discovery, which rode record demos for its Shark Week and popular new series like “Naked and Afraid XL” and “Treasure Quest” to a top-3 finish among all cable networks in adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.

It was up vs. last summer by 11% in both 18-49 and 25-54 (finishing behind only USA) and by 19% in total viewers. Its “Naked and Afraid: XL” (the year’s top-rated new unscripted cable series) joined “Alaskan Bush People” and “Deadliest Catch” among the top 5-rated summer cable series in 25-54. The network also had five of cable’s top 20 summer series in 18-49.

HGTV, with “Brother vs. Brother” and “Beach Flip” leading the way, moved up to seventh place among adults 18-49 and fifth in total viewers, rising 6% and 13% respectively vs. last year. AMC was another network on the rise, thanks in large part to two strong weeks of newcomer “Fear the Walking Dead.”

Other top-50 entertainment and sports networks up in adults 18-49 were Disney Channel (No. 13), Investigation Discovery (No. 24), Starz (No. 26), WeTV (No. 30), FXX (No. 32), Fox Sports 1 (No. 34), Disney Junior (No. 39), Hallmark Channel (No. 41), GSN (No. 43) and UDN (No. 46).

WeTV was up 28% in adults 18-49 (to 227,000) and 23% in total viewers (to 611,000), led by “Braxton Family Values” and “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars.” Also contributing were “L.A. Hair,” which liked “Braxton” had its highest rated season to date, and hot newcomer “Cutting It: In the ATL.”

And for GSN, its summer averages in 18-49 (137,000, up 73%), total viewers (471,000, up 27%) and other categories represented record highs. Among the shows leading the way were “Skin Wars,” “The Chase,” “Idiotest” and rookie “Steampunk’d.”

Cable news networks also fared well, with Fox News Channel nearly catching TNT as the most-watched cabler overall in Nielsen’s “most current” estimates. FNC has been winning most weeks of late in “live plus same-day” and finished on top by this measure. Thanks in part to its record-setting GOP Presidential Debate last month, Fox News finished the summer up vs. last year by about 30% in the key news demo of adults 25-54 (to 398,000) while growing its overall audience by 9% (to 1.93 million).

CNN was up 6% in adults 25-54 (to 190,000) and 9% higher in total viewers (599,000), while MSNBC dipped 3% in the demo (to 153,000) and grew 10% in total viewers (629,000). Financial news net CNBC also spiked, placing 45th in adults 18-49 and jumping by about 50% or more in all categories.

The summer’s top new scripted cable series in adults 18-49 were HBO’s “Ballers” and USA’s “Mr. Robot,” while the top newcomers on the unscripted side were Discovery’s “Naked and Afraid XL” and “I Am Cait.”

In the kids race, Disney Channel opened up some distance on runner-up Nickelodeon, beating its rival by 8% in kids 2-11 (671,000 vs. 622,000) and 13% in total viewers (1.34 million vs. 1.19 million). The net, which has now been on top each of the last four summers, was boosted by original movies “Descendants” and “Teen Beach 2” and comedy newcomers “Bunk’d” and “Best Friends Whenever.”

 

TOP CABLE NETWORKS
(Most current; June 1-Aug. 30, 2015)

Adults 18-49 viewers
1.  USA ……………. 764,000 (down 17%)
2.  Discovery ……..  723,000 (up 11%)
3.  TBS …………….  665,000 (down 19%)
4.  TNT …………….  556,000 (down 23%)
5.  FX ………………  542,000 (down 17%)
6.  Adult Swim …….  532,000 (down 1%)
7.  HGTV ………….  495,000 (up 6%)
8.  ABC Family ……  468,000 (down 12%)
9.  Food ……………. 463,000 (down 11%)
10.  History ………..  456,000 (down 29%)
11.  AMC …………..  431,000 (up 11%)
12.  Lifetime ………..  423,000 (down 8%)
13.  Disney …………  422,000 (up 1%)
14.  Syfy ……………  415,000 (down 13%)
15.  VH1 ……………  413,000 (down 17%)
16.  Spike …………..  411,000 (even)
17.  A&E ……………  406,000 (down 28%)
18.  ESPN ………….  405,000 (down 35%)
19.  MTV ……………  383,000 (down 28%)
20.  Bravo …………..  382,000 (down 23%)

Total Viewers (in millions)
1.  TNT …………………..  1.95 million (down 22%)
2.  Fox News ……………  1.93 million (up 9%)
3.  Disney ………………..  1.86 million (down 5%)
3.  USA …………………..  1.86 million (down 18%)
5.  HGTV …………………  1.64 million (up 13%)
6.  Discovery …………….  1.59 million (up 19%)
7.  History ………………..  1.53 million (down 20%)
8.  TBS ……………………  1.42 million (down 12%)
9.  Food …………………..  1.13 million (down 1%)
10.  FX …………………….  1.11 million (down 13%)
11.  Syfy …………………..  1.10 million (down 8%)
12.  Adult Swim …………..  1.03 million (down 3%)
13.  ESPN ………………..  1.03 million (down 33%)
14.  AMC …………………. 1.03 million (up 11%)
15.  Lifetime ……………….  1.01 million (down 3%)
16.  A&E …………………..  0.97 million (down 32%)
17.  ABC Family …………..  0.93 million (down 15%)
18.  ID ………………………  0.89 million (up 12%)
19.  TLC …………………….  0.88 million (down 16%)
20.  Spike …………………..  0.82 million (down 5%)

 

TOP SUMMER ORIGINAL CABLE SERIES
(Most current; June 1-Aug. 23, 2015)

Adults 18-49 rating
1.  Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta (VH1), 1.8
2.  Teen Mom II (MTV), 1.7
3.  Naked and Afraid XL (Discovery), 1.6
3.  True Detective (HBO), 1.6
5.  Alaskan Bush People (Discovery), 1.4
5.  Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family), 1.4
5.  WWE Raw (USA), 1.4
5.  Deadliest Catch (Discovery), 1.4
5.  Street Outlaws (Discovery), 1.4
10.  Ballers (HBO), 1.3
10.  Duck Dynasty (A&E), 1.3
12.  Real Housewives of Orange County (Bravo), 1.2
12.  The Last Ship (TNT), 1.2
12.  Naked & Afraid (Discovery), 1.2
12.  Love and Hip-Hop Afterparty Live (VH1), 1.2
12.  Rizzoli & Isles (TNT), 1.2
17.  The Haves and the Have Nots (OWN), 1.1
17.  The Strain (FX), 1.1
17.  I Am Cait (E!), 1.1
17.  Suits (USA), 1.1

Total Viewers
1.  Rizzoli & Isles (TNT), 6.27
2.  Major Crimes (TNT), 5.86
3.  Alaskan Bush People (Discovery), 4.70
4.  The Last Ship (TNT), 4.53
5.  WWE Raw (USA), 4.15
6.  The Haves and the Have Nots (OWN), 3.72
7.  Naked and Afraid (Discovery), 3.69
8.  True Detective (HBO), 3.68
9.  Duck Dynasty (A&E), 3.53
9.  Suits (USA), 3.53
11.  Deadliest Catch (Discovery), 3.48
12.  Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta (VH1), 3.46
13.  Falling Skies (TNT), 3.30
14.  Proof (TNT), 3.28
15.  Murder in the First (TNT), 3.21
16.  Mountain Men (History), 3.20
17.  American Pickers (History), 3.14
18.  Bunk’d (Disney), 3.13
19.  Street Outlaws (Discovery), 3.07
20.  Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family), 2.99

Source: Nielsen (minimum four airings)

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