NBA Stands Tall For TNT in May
But most general-interest nets hurt
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/1/2003 8:00:00 PM
TNT grabbed the May cable ratings crown, thanks to an all-star performance from its franchise player, the National Basketball Association. Helped by the playoffs, TNT swept the cable competition with a 2.6 prime time average and nearly 3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media. TNT's NBA action averaged 4.1 million viewers per game.
|May's Big Gainers|
|Cable's winners in prime time ratings|
|*From May 2002
Source: Nielsen Media Research
The stellar ratings help justify the hefty $2.2 billion TNT that plunked down last year for its piece of the NBA's new $4.6 billion TV deal. Wisely, TNT secured the Western Conference Finals—considered the strongest conference—which averaged a 4.5 rating through four games. The month's highest-rated cable program was TNT's May 13 matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, which produced a hulking 6.2 rating.
"We allocate the resources needed for quality product like the NBA," said Turner Broadcasting research chief Jack Wakshlag, adding that "all the pieces are working," on TNT's schedule, led by basketball, as well as by Law & Order and theatrical movies.
ESPN's NBA action collected a solid 2.4 average rating in May but didn't similarly lift the network. Overall, ESPN notched a 1.2 average in prime, up from a 1.0 a year ago. The sports net's coverage of the Eastern Conference Finals, which lacked the seesaw drama of the Western games, attracted a strong 2.8 rating.
With or without basketball, cable networks faced a tough battle in May against the broadcast sweeps offerings. Against the seven broadcast networks, ad-supported cable attracted a 46.9 share compared with a 49.4 for the broadcasters. In recent months, cable had been enjoying a lead over broadcast.
Broad-based cable networks seemed to suffer the most. "The ones that really are focused on the same audiences as broadcast really found it very hard to compete," said MTV Networks research chief Betsy Franks.
For example, Lifetime's ratings were off 20% from the year-ago period to a 1.6 in prime, TBS Superstation's rating slipped 19% to a 1.3, and Discovery Channel was off 20% to a 0.8.
Meanwhile, fully distributed niche channels enjoyed favorable gains. Discovery sibling TLC nabbed a 1.0, a 25% improvement over last year. Court TV, History Channel and Sci Fi Channel each posted a 0.9 rating, climbing nearly 30% from a year ago. HGTV and AMC also enjoyed healthy advances. In fact, History Channel logged a 3.0, its best-ever rating with Russia: The Land of the Tsars on May 26 (though, in Nielsen's eyes, that program is part of the June ratings period).
Fox News Channel, which has certainly carved out its own niche, remains the only news net holding on to some of its war spoils. Fox averaged a 1.5 rating, up 50% from last year. Competitors CNN (0.8 rating) and MSNBC (0.3) were both flat compared with last year.
Clearly, cable nets are welcoming the summer months, traditionally their season to advance on the broadcasters, and Lifetime, FX and USA will launch series in the sunny season.
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