Walkout aids cable in long run

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For all the agitation it caused the television industry, the writers strike had an undeniably salubrious effect on cable ratings, as seven of the top 10 ad-supported networks in February saw their primetime deliveries swell by double-digit percentages compared with a year ago.

According to Nielsen Media Research data from Jan. 28- Feb. 24, the 10 leading ad-supported cable networks averaged a whopping 24.9% increase in total viewers in primetime compared with February 2007, a number artificially inflated by CNN's primary-fueled surge of 133%. With CNN's ratings pulled out of the mix, the remaining nine nets still averaged a sizable 15.1% year-over-year increase.

USA Network was No. 1 for the month, averaging 3 million viewers in primetime, a 10% jump compared with February 2007. USA also won two of the top three demographics, averaging 1.29 million adults 18-49 and 1.32 million adults 25-54, both representing increases of 11%.

Sliding into second was TNT, up 7% in primetime with 2.3 million viewers. The Turner net delivered its best demo number with adults 25-54, averaging a second-place 1.07 million, up 13%. TNT also grew its share of 18-49 by 13% (1.06 million), taking third in the category.

Fox News Channel cruised to a third-place finish for the month, averaging 1.87 million viewers, a 16% jump compared with last year's number. Among members of the core news demo, FNC increased its average delivery of adults 25-54 by 10% (454,000).

TBS claimed February's fourth spot with 1.86 million total viewers, an 8% increase. The net put together its strongest demo showing with the 18-34 set, winning the category outright with 664,000 viewers, a leap of 18%. TBS also finished second among 18-49 (1.11 million, up 9%).

CNN enjoyed a vertiginous leap in February, averaging 1.67 million viewers, compared with 783,000 a year ago. The news net also wrapped up a sixth-place finish among the target demo, improving its standing among 25-54 by 150% (614,000).

Rounding out the top 10 ad-supported nets: Nick at Nite (1.65 million, up 35%); FX (1.5 million, up 26%); A&E, (1.46 million, down 6%); ESPN (1.39 million, up 18%); and Hallmark Channel (1.34 million, up 22%).

In addition to USA and TNT, FX and ESPN enjoyed double-digit growth among 18-49, averaging 875,000 (up 28%) and 727,000 (up 41%), respectively.

MSNBC enjoyed the second-highest upswing, growing its total viewer delivery by 62% to 771,000.

Cable nets that backslid in February were few. Eleventh-ranked Lifetime slid 21% to 1.31 million on the month, while Cartoon Network was off 9% (1.2 million). TV Land's audience was diminished by 18% (803,000). Non-ad-supported Disney Channel was up 2%, averaging 2.43 million viewers.

Anthony Crupi is a reporter for Mediaweek.
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