ESPN tops weekly cable ratings

Football programming keeps sports network on top

ESPN powered its way to another ratings sweep as "Monday Night Football" and a one-hour Heisman Trophy presentation special kept the sports network atop cable's primetime ratings heap.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, ESPN averaged 3.3 million total viewers in primetiime during the week ending Dec. 13. It also ran away with the three major TV demos, drawing 1.63 million viewers 18-49 and adults 25-54 and serving up 801,000 viewers 18-34.

ESPN's "MNF" telecast of the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 7 drew 13.5 million viewers. Season-to-date, the franchise is averaging 14.5 million viewers, up 21%% from a year ago.

Also putting up big numbers was ESPN's Heisman Trophy handoff, which drew 5.4 million viewers Saturday at 9 p.m.

USA Network held onto second place last week, drawing 2.8 million viewers, of which 1.63 million were members of the adults 25-54 demo. USA also took second among 18-49s (1.28 million) and 18-34s (625,000). (Among the younger demo, the NBC Universal net squeaked by TBS by a margin of about 4,000 viewers.)

USA's top draw was "WWE Raw," which averaged 4.81 million viewers Monday from 9-11:15 p.m.

ABC Family enjoyed a seasonal boost, taking third on the week with 2.17 million viewers. The network's "25 Days of Christmas" stunt steered it to a fourth-place finish among adults 25-54 (938,000) and viewers 18-49 (976,000).

Ray Romano's return to primetime helped TNT take fourth on the week, as the new "Men of a Certain Age" drew 5.4 million viewers on Dec. 7. The premiere retained 87% of its lead-in, a special episode of "The Closer" that drew 6.18 million viewers in the 9 p.m. slot.

"Men" also did well among the target demos, averaging 2.63 million adults 25-54 and 2.07 million viewers 18-49.

Closing out the top five was Hallmark Channel, which drew 2.13 million viewers. The net saw a lift from its original holiday movie, "Christmas in Canaan," which averaged 3.69 million viewers Saturday at 8 p.m.

Hallmark's performance meant that Fox News Channel (2.02 million viewers) fell from the top five in cable primetime for the first time in 2009.

E!'s season premiere of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" delivered huge numbers, averaging 3.14 million 18-49s on Sunday. The demo accounted for 76% of the unscripted series' total audience (4.12 million).