Lifetime's top-notch niche
Women's channel to take 2001 cable viewership crown; news nets big gainers
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/16/2001 7:00:00 PM
Not even a mouse will be stirring at the Lifetime Television offices between Christmas and New Year's. The "television for women" network is poised to win this year's cable Nielsen race, which means President Carole Black will deliver on her promise to give staffers a long holiday break as a reward.
With just three weeks left, Lifetime is averaging a 1.95 rating in prime time. Its closest competitors are Cartoon Network, TBS and USA, each reporting an average 1.7 rating in prime, according to Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen numbers.
A Lifetime victory would be the first time a niche network topped the yearly ratings. "The general-entertainment networks used to be the top three," says Tim Brooks, Lifetime's head of research. "A niche network sometimes leads for a week or the month, but never for the year."
Despite finishing in the top three, the big general-entertainment players—TNT, TBS and USA—have seen ratings slump or remain flat compared with last year. Niche networks have made gains as some viewers turned away from the loosely defined broad-based channels.
Turner Entertainment President Brad Siegel, who oversees TNT and TBS, says his networks aren't losing momentum but, instead, have lost a portion of the audience because they target younger viewers.
"We've chosen not to program for the 50-plus audience. To build the household number, you win that race on adults 50-plus," he said. Strong numbers among older viewers have fueled Lifetime's ratings growth in the last year.
TNT and Nickelodeon, who shared the third position with 1.6 ratings, claimed some of the year's top-rated programs. TNT's original movie Crossfire Trail scored a mammoth 9.6 rating last January—the year's best—and December's original Call Me Claus earned a 6.3. Nick's Rugrats' 10th Anniversary special in July was the highest-rated kids show, with a 7.2 rating.
ESPN's ratings dipped 20% year-to-date, despite big ratings from NFL games that scored a 6.0 or better this fall. ESPN's highest number this year was an 8.7 rating for a Nov. 25 NFL match between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, the second-highest-rated show this year.
Cable news nets tallied some of the year's biggest gains. Fox News and CNN are positioned to finish tied at a 1.0 rating, although CNN has about 150,000 more viewers. Both nets have made double-digit gains, with Fox News up 43% and CNN increasing 25%. Last summer's makeover helped CNN's Headline News boost its average rating 50%, from a 0.2 last year to a 0.3.
One-year-old SoapNet and Lifetime Movie Network posted startlingly high 0.7 scores, much better than startups typically garner. However, their thin distribution, to fewer than 15 million homes each, means that they are viewed by an average of only 100,000 homes each night.
|Entertainment nets get bumped|
|Average prime ratings through the first 49 weeks of the year|
|2001||2000||Chg. '01 vs. '00||2001 HH* (000)|
|* Households NA=Not applicable; network was not rated last year
Source: Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data
|13||The Learning Channel||0.9||0.9||0%||714|
|15||Sci Fi Channel||0.8||0.9||-11%||564|
|18||Lifetime Movie Network||0.7||0.4||75%||106|
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