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Nets Turn Up July Heat
BY MIKE REYNOLDS -- Multichannel News, 8/2/2004
August's dog days have yet to bark, but one could forgive broadcast-network executives if they howl for an end to summer.
Basic cable followed up a record-setting viewing performance in June with an even hotter July — when the medium registered its best-ever primetime rating, share and delivery totals.
According to a Lifetime Television analysis of Nielsen Media Research data, basic cable notched a 58.9 share in primetime from June 28 through July 25, up 7% from a 55 share last July (July 1 through July 28, 2003). Household ratings improved 8% to a 31.6 from a 29.3, while delivery grew 10% to 34.3 million households from 31.2 million.
By way of comparison, the seven broadcast networks saw their weighted collective primetime share fall to 34.3 from a 36.4. Household ratings dropped to an 18.4 from a 19.3 last July, while delivery dwindled to just under 20 million households.
RETURNING SERIES KEY
It was supposed to be different this year, with broadcasters offering up more reality shows and Fox throwing out the first pitch on its year-round programming gambit.
“In a summer when broadcast was supposed to take bold steps, cable has continued to soar,” said Lifetime Television executive vice president of research Tim Brooks. “There have been a host of new reality shows, none of which have really hit big. But summer largely continues as a season of repeats for broadcast.”
In Brooks's view, that continues to push viewers toward cable, where they're finding new entries and fresh episodes of existing original series.
“There have been new programs like Stargate Atlantis and The 4400 that have captured a lot of attention, but I argue that it has been the success of original series carrying over that is driving this summer for cable. Monk, Nip/Tuck, Bravo, Strong Medicine and Newlyweds are all still performing very well in their second, third and even fifth seasons,” said Brooks, noting that Lifetime's household ratings average has improved over each of the past three months.
Neither Brooks or Turner Broadcasting System Inc. research chief Jack Wakschlag believe things will change much when the final numbers are tallied in August, despite the presence of NBC's ubiquitous coverage of the Summer Olympics from Athens.
“It will be big for NBC, but the other broadcast networks historically flop over and don't do much against the Olympics. The cable networks are going to take their opportunities. I don't see anybody pulling back on their primetime schedules,” said Wakschlag, adding that primetime viewing of the Games could be diminished by the host of Olympics fare running on NBC Universal Cable's other networks.
USA, TNT LEAD WAY
As for individual services, USA Network saw its July household ratings grow by nearly half, to a 2.2, in grabbing a share of the primetime lead in July with Turner Network Television.
According to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data, USA registered a 47% rise in the process from a 1.5, with its Nielsen fortunes bolstered by the aforementioned limited series The 4400, whose July 11 premiere was tied for the top-rated show of the month with a 5.7 (matching ESPN's coverage of Major League Baseball Home Run Derby on July 12) and Monk installments. Another veteran original skein, The Dead Zone, and off-network series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit were also monthly mainstays.
TNT — which is scoring nicely with its own limited series, The Grid, as well as off-network stalwart — was ahead 10% from a 2.0 the prior year.
Disney Channel (flat) was third with a 1.8, while Lifetime Television (off 17%), Cartoon Network (down 6%) and Turner South (not rated last year) were knotted for fourth, all at a 1.5. The regional entertainment network rode the strength of a number of Atlanta Braves baseball games to its exalted position.
Indeed, Turner South, along with USA, claimed a share of the primetime ratings diadem from July 19 through July 25, each with a 2.3 average.
Rounding out the top 10 in primetime during July: Nick at Nite (not measured a year ago) and TBS (down 7%), both at a 1.4; Fox News Channel (up 8%) with a 1.3; and ESPN at a 1.0.
FX and Sci Fi, up 38% and 22%, respectively, finished just outside the top 10, at a 1.1.
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