OMG! Dis Channel scoops first yearly viewers crown

Runner-up USA Net tops in demos

It came down to only 15,000 viewers.

Disney Channel and USA Network had been in a neck-and-neck race for the 2007 total-viewers crown among basic cable networks, but final numbers released Thursday by Nielsen Media Research put Disney just ahead of USA (2.69 million vs. 2.68 million).

Disney took the honor for the first time ever thanks to such programming as "High School Musical 2" and "Hannah Montana." After factoring in Live+7 data, the Aug. 17 premiere of "HSM2" was the most-watched cable telecast of the year, averaging 18.6 million total viewers (based on Live+SD data only, the musical movie pulled in 17.2 million).

Just behind was sister network ESPN's Dec. 3 "Monday Night Football" game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, which averaged 17.5 million total viewers (the number didn't change much with Live+7 data included). "MNF" telecasts actually accounted for eight of the 10 most-watched cable telecasts of the year. Rounding out the top 10 was the Aug. 17 episode of "Hannah Montana" (11.2 million), which aired after the premiere of "HSM2."

Disney researchers said that its total-viewer number marks the biggest annual primetime audience for any cable network ever. The 2007 figures also mark a 6% improvement compared with 2006 for Disney and a 2% increase for USA.

Rounding out the top 10 behind Disney and USA were TNT (2.2 million, down 7% from 2006), ESPN (1.95 million, down 11%), TBS (1.84 million, up 12%), Lifetime (1.53 million, down 1%), Fox News Channel (1.45 million, up 4%), A&E Network (1.35 million, up 20%), Cartoon Network (1.34 million, down 10%) and Nick at Nite (1.31 million, down 12%).

While Nos. 3-6 stayed the same as in 2006, A&E jumped up from No. 14 last year to enter the top 10 (FX fell out, dropping from No. 10 to No. 12) and Cartoon and Fox News switched rankings.

Meanwhile, USA took the primetime crown in the key adult demos of 18-34 (564,000), 18-49 (1.2 million) and 25-54 (1.2 million) for a second consecutive year. In addition, USA said it marks the first time in 10 years that an entertainment cable network has won all four quarters in 18-49 and 25-54.

With "Burn Notice," USA boasted the most-watched new scripted series in total viewers for the second year in a row ("Psych" topped the 2006 list), while "Burn Notice" and "The Starter Wife" ranked as the top two new cable series in 18-49 and 25-54.

In addition, USA had more scripted series in cable's top 10 among 18-49 and 25-54 than any other network ("Burn Notice," "Starter Wife," "Monk," "Psych" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent").

Rounding out primetime's top 10 in 18-49 were TBS (1.03 million, up 10%), TNT (979,000, down 8%), ESPN (963,000, down 5%), FX (739,000, up 2%), Discovery (687,000, up 13%), Spike TV (648,000, down 3%), A&E (634,000, up 10%), Comedy Central (621,000, up 4%) and MTV (610,000, up 11%).

In the kids demos, Nickelodeon won in total-day numbers with the exception of tweens 9-14, falling behind Disney, which dominated in the demos in primetime. Nickelodeon ended the year in total-day with 1.2 million kids 2-11, 674,000 kids 6-11, 858,000 kids 6-14 and 498,000 tweens 9-14 (compared with Disney's 518,000). In primetime, Disney averaged 1.5 million kids 2-11, 1.1 million kids 6-11, 1.5 million kids 6-14 and 988,000 tweens 9-14.

Disney's "Hannah Montana" was the most-watched scripted series of the year among kids 6-11 (1.1 million) and tweens 9-14 (1 million), followed by the network's "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" (1.1 million kids 6-11, 942,000 tweens 9-14).

Also of interest:

With help from December miniseries "Tin Man," Sci Fi Channel had its best year ever among adults 18-34 (232,000, up 21%) and ranked in the top 10 in 25-54 (657,000, up 6%). Night 1 of "Tin Man" (7.1 million viewers) was the most-watched program in Sci Fi's history.

In a year marked with controversy over the star of its series "Dog the Bounty Hunter," which the network yanked from the schedule, A&E showed the biggest gain in total viewers among the top 10 networks. It also grew 10% in 18-49 (634,000), 10% in 25-54 (639,000) and 11% in 18-34 (282,000).

History Channel, boosted by the success of series including "Ice Road Truckers" and such specials as "The Lost Book of Nostradamus" and "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed," saw its total viewership (1.1 million) grow by 3% and its 18-49 number (469,000) increase by 10%.

HGTV, which continues to see success with "Design Star," saw a 6% jump in total viewers (1.1 million).

Original holiday movies helped boost both Hallmark Channel and ABC Family to year-over-year growth in total viewers. Hallmark was up 7% to 1.25 million, while ABC Family was up 5% to 1.17 million. ABC Family had its most-watched telecast ever with "Holiday in Handcuffs" (7 million).

Court TV, which has been undergoing a makeover that culminated Jan. 1 with its rebranding as truTV, saw its total viewership rise 27% year-over-year to 1.18 million.

Discovery Channel, which scored a hit with its "Planet Earth" series, was up 13% from 2006 to 1.28 million total viewers.