Cable 2013 Ratings: Banner Year for AMC and A&E as History Drops

USA remains the most-watched but loses the demo to TBS -- as cable originals "The Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad" and "Duck Dynasty" and off-net deals for "The Big Bang Theory" and "Family Guy" bolster their respective networks.
AMC; Adult Swim; A&E
"The Walking Dead," "Children's Hospital" and "Duck Dynasty"

There isn't much diversity in basic cable's top 50 broadcasts of the last year. With all but a handful of days left in the ratings calendar, it looks like The Walking Dead, Duck Dynasty and football (both NFL and NCAA) occupy almost every last spot among the targeted demographics: adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.

In fact, The Walking Dead managed to dethrone the perennial cable victor, ESPN's BCS Championship Game. The January showdown between Notre Dame and Alabama, a blowout for the latter, lost the top 18-49 spot, with four episodes of The Walking Dead outperforming it. (The big game remained the biggest draw, with 26.5 million viewers.)

STORY: How ABC Became the New NBC

The Walking Dead, joined by a massive surge for the final season of Breaking Bad, propelled AMC into basic cable's top 10 primetime players in both demos. AMC was up 30 percent with adults 18-49 (687,000 viewers) and up 21 percent in adults 25-54 (687,000). The network hovered just shy of the top 10 in total viewership but rose a significant 16 percent to an average 1.398 million viewers.

Basic cable made a solid showing across the board. While the big four broadcast networks fell 11 percent in their combined 18-49 primetime showing, grossing an average 8.0 rating among adults 18-49, ad-supported cable was down only 1 percent for a gross 18.4 rating. The demo share also sees the gap widening, with basic cable accounting for 70 percent to the Big Four's 30 percent.

AMC was not the only network to grow. Duck Dynasty helped propel A&E upward, climbing 10 percent in total viewers. Fellow A+E Networks were a grab bag, with Lifetime posting modest growth across the board and History declining 12 percent (18-49) and 11 percent (25-54) from 2012. (The Bible, while huge, was no Hatfields & McCoys.)

Adult Swim showed substantial improvement. The evening arm of Cartoon Network, which has originals such as Children's Hospital and strong off-net airings of Family Guy, jumped 14 percent with adults 18-49 with a nightly average of 768,000.

Bravo saw continued growth, thanks in no small part to strong outings from several shows in its Real Housewives franchise and the growing number of spinoffs. It improved 4 percent among adults 18-49, growing by 6 percent with adults 25-54.

TNT saw minor dips. Turner sister TBS offset those losses with gains among adults 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers. The network actually unseated USA as cable's top 18-49 performer in primetime, climbing 2 percent to an average 1.08 million viewers. The network owes a lot of that to The Big Bang Theory. Nightly off-net repeats of the CBS sitcom have become one of cable's most consistent performers.

STORY: USA's Pricey 'Modern Family' Bet Shows Signs of Life

As for USA, the network retains its viewership dominance. It ends the year with an average 2.746 million viewers, down 8 percent from the previous year, but still ahead of Disney. Among adults 18-49, it fell 4 percent, losing 7 percent of adults 25-54.

Continued solid outings for Monday Night Football and other franchises kept ESPN high, though the network was down from 2012 in all measures -- taking its biggest hit among adults 18-49 with a 12 percent drop.

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav addressed his cable catalog's performance on Monday. Noting interest in "a steadier hand" for challenged TLC, the network actually caps off the year with just 2 percent fewer viewers and slightly more losses in both of the demos.

The same cannot be said for Discovery's resurgent OWN. The third year of the Oprah Winfrey Network climbed 27 percent in total viewers (415,000), 18 percent with adults 18-49 (162,000) and 24 percent among adults 25-54 (199,000) -- all on par with last year's growth.

FX, still in the top 10 by all key measures, was virtually on par with last year despite big ratings gains for American Horror Story and Sons of Anarchy. The network was up 3 percent in total viewers, averaging 1.486 million and just 1 percent among adults 18-49 for an average 814,000.

The younger-skewing ABC Family saw some losses. It was down 10 percent among total viewers and 7 percent in its targeted adults 18-34.