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By Anthony Crupi, Mediaweek
Buttressed by strong “Monday Night Football” deliveries, ESPN is ontrack to win its second straight monthly ratings race. Through Oct. 25,the sports network averaged 3.73 million total viewers in prime time, a28% improvement over its year-ago delivery (2.92 million).
PerNielsen ratings data, ESPN swept the three core TV demos, drawing 1.9million adults 25-54 (an increase of 31% versus October 2008), whileserving up 1.88 million viewers 18-49, up 28% from 1.47 million. Thenet also drew 855,000 viewers 18-34, a 21% lift from 703,000.
ESPNstarted the month on a tear, as the Oct. 5 installment of “MNF” set therecord as the most-watched telecast in cable TV history, drawing 21.9million total viewers. Wrangler
shill/Vikings QB Brett Favre led theMinnesota Vikings to a 30-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers,establishing bragging rights over the NFC North and knocking off theprevious record of 18.6 million viewers, set by ESPN on Sept. 15, 2008(Eagles-Cowboys).
Through the first six weeks of the 2009-10 NFL season, ESPN’s “MNF” coverage is averaging 15 million total viewers.
ESPNalso drew big numbers with the Sept. 28 “MNF” telecast, aCowboys-Panthers tilt that delivered 15.7 million viewers. On Oct. 19,the Chargers and Broncos AFC West grudge match drew 13.5 millionviewers, while Jets-Dolphins delivered 13.1 million viewers on thenight of the 12th.
Bristol held off a charge by TBS, whichhosted its third season of postseason baseball. The Turner net’s slateof 18 MLB playoff games averaged 5.15 million viewers, down 4% from the5.38 million viewers it drew a year ago, when it carried 22 postseasongames.
All told, TBS averaged 3.24 million viewers in prime, adrop of 11% from the 3.64 million it drew in October 2008. TBS tooksecond among the three demos, averaging 1.58 million viewers 18-49(down 10%), 1.52 million adults 25-54 (down 13%) and 787,000 viewers18-34 (off 5%).
On the month, TBS accounted for six of the top10 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable, setting its high-watermark with Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. On Oct.21, the Phillies advanced to the World Series with a 10-4 win over theDodgers, in a Wednesday night clincher that was seen by a TBS audienceof 8 million viewers.
USA Network took third place, averaging2.93 million total viewers, a 3% uptick from last October’s 2.83million. Although the network saw declines in the demos, USA took thirdacross the board, drawing 1.29 million adults 25-54 (down 4%), 1.19million viewers 18-49 (down 13% from its year-ago 1.38 million) and541,000 18-34s, a drop of 15%.
USA got the biggest lift of themonth on Friday, Oct. 23, as a new episode of “Monk” drew 5.42 millionviewers before leading into the series premiere of “White Collar” (5.4million). In a remarkable show of retention, “White Collar” held onto99.6% of its 9 p.m. lead-in.
Fox News Channel grabbed fourthplace, drawing a nightly crowd of 2.16 million viewers, of which563,000 were members of the 25-54 demo. While FNC dropped 36% in bothareas, its 2008 numbers were inflated by the race for the White House.
Ina head-to-head comparison with the most recent non-election year, FNCactually grew 55% versus October 2007, when it averaged 1.4 milliontotal viewers. In the core news demo, Fox News grew 66% versus the sameperiod two years ago, when it averaged 340,000 adults 25-54.
Taking fifth in October prime was Nick at Nite, with 1.71 million viewers, down 3% from 1.75 million.
Roundingout the top 10 were: TNT, which fell 11% in prime with an average drawof 1.48 million viewers; A&E, up 10% with 1.5 million viewers;Syfy, up 1% (1.45 million); Cartoon Network, which fell 19% (1.36million) and FX, up 11% with 1.3 million total viewers.
PerNielsen, 11 of ad-supported cable’s top 40 networks notcheddouble-digit ratings gains in the quarter, while a dozen nets suffereddeclines of 10% or more. All told, the top 40 nets accounted for anaggregate 3.4% decline in nightly deliveries.
While the top 10was relatively stable, with only ESPN, A&E and FX growing by 10% ormore, it was a mixed bag for cable nets that ranked between No. 11 andNo. 40 in prime. The biggest gainer of the month was Food Network,which was up 32% in total viewers, averaging 1.13 million viewers.
Also making great strides in October was Food sibling HGTV, which improved 17% to 1.16 million viewers.
Ona%ile basis, other gainers were: ESPN2 (up 29% to 780,000); CMT (up 27%to 436,000); BET (up 18% to 751,000); truTV (up 15% to 1.06 million)and Travel Channel, which saw its nightly deliveries increase 11% to477,000. E! and TLC also saw substantial gains, as each grew 9%.
Notsurprisingly, the nets that lost the most ground in the quarter werenews outlets. CNN fell 69% with 665,000 viewers, while MSNBC dropped56% to 702,000 viewers. When compared to October 2007 deliveries, CNNwas down 6% from 711,000 viewers, while MSNBC grew 44% from 489,000.Much the same holds true for the demo, as MSNBC served up 235,000adults 25-54 (up 18% from 199,000 in October ’07), besting CNN’s187,000 (down 24% from 246,000 two years ago).
A handful ofbasic entertainment nets also took a hit. Hallmark Channel continued tostruggle, dropping 38% to 782,000 viewers, while Lifetime fell 25% to1.05 million viewers. Viacom nets MTV and Comedy Central sufferedsetbacks, as the flagship net fell 16% in October (689,000) while itssibling dropped 14% to 992,000.
Tops among the core TV demowere: ESPN, which drew 1.88 million viewers 18-49, up 28%; TBS, with1.58 million (down 10%); USA (1.19 million, down 13%); FX (770,000, up10%); Syfy (733,000, up 4%); A&E (651,000, off 1%); TNT (629,000,down 19%); Comedy Central (617,000, down 11%); Spike TV (615,000, flatversus a year ago) and Discovery Channel (592,000, down 5%).
Non-ad-supportedDisney Channel took fourth among all basic cable nets, averaging 2.84million viewers in prime, up 8% versus the prior-year period, when itdrew 2.63 million viewers. The Mouse maintained its hold on the corekiddie demos, averaging 1.17 million viewers 6-11 (up 6%) and 949,000’tweens 9-14 (down 2%).
Disney’s most significant programminghighlight of the quarter occurred on Oct. 2, as a one-hour Suite Lifeon Deck drew 7.62 million viewers.
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