Strike may tether viewers to cable

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NEW YORK -- The effects of the writers strike isn't going to do anything for sagging broadcast network ratings but is bound to help cable, a cable executive said Wednesday.

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting, told reporters Wednesday that it was likely that viewers in the new year turned off by a lack of originals on broadcast TV would shift over to cable and not necessarily go online.

The networks are down 8% in adults 18-49 while ad-supported cable is up 5% in terms of primetime share of viewing, according to Nielsen Media Research data. The report said that the drop equals about 1.6 million households, "as if everyone in Miami stopped watching broadcast TV."

Wakshlag said that cable TV's business isn't as dependent on original scripted programming as the broadcast networks, who are faced with having to replace all of the scripted programming it started the season with by mid-January.

"I don't think we're as vulnerable as they are as we don't have as much of an inventory" (of scripted programming), Wakshlag said. Turner, for instance, has hit scripted product like "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" but its schedule isn't built entirely on it. Wakshlag said that much of the cable industry is in the same situation.

Wakshlag doesn't think that broadband video will take as much of a share of the viewers trying to find alternatives, as much of the research coming in shows that broadband video usage is ubiquitous but relatively light. The Nielsen Co.'s Video Census 2.0 analysis finds that 113 million watched online video streams in September 2007 but there were an average 54 videos per user for a total of 2.3 hours each viewer -- not enough for much long-form programming.

Wakshlag's semi-annual presentation outlined further declines by the broadcast networks and how 2007 is shaping up to be a record year for the cable industry. Thirty-five ad-supported cable networks -- including USA, ESPN2, FX and Discovery -- will have the best primetime adults 18-49 delivery in their histories. USA will lead the pack, including the best total-viewer delivery in cable history.

Meanwhile, Lifetime Networks said it would finish the year tops in basic cable total day in women 18-49 and women 25-54 as well as in second place in primeime among women 18-49 and women 25-54.
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