Walkout helps cable in the long run


STRIKE ZONE: Latest news and updates

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, the only net to drop slightly at 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 both enjoyed double-digit growth among 18-49, averaging 875,000 (up 28%) and 727,000 (up 41%), respectively.

Among cable's top 30 channels, MSNBC enjoyed the second-highest upswing, growing its total viewer delivery by 62% to 771,000. In descending order, other double-digit growers in primetime were Spike TV (up 12% to 1.29 million total viewers), History Channel (up 12% to 1.22 million), Food Network (up 17% to 885,000), Bravo (up 22% to 710,000) and E! (up 29% to 602,000).

Cable nets that backslid in February were few and far between. Eleventh-ranked Lifetime dove 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% compared with February 2007, averaging 2.43 million viewers.