It was neither a good or bad year for cable ratings in 2012: While every broadcast network except NBC posted declines with the key adults 18-49 demo, cable as a whole was flat over 2011.
The top 5 basic cable networks remained the same from last year, though there was some slight jockeying of spaces. Below are other highlights from dissecting the year-end Nielsen data:
• Among the top 10 basic cable networks in primetime, TBS was the biggest gainer from 2011, up 23% in total viewers and 20% with adults 18-49 thanks to an increase in original programming with new series like Sullivan & Son and Men at Work and a full year of The Big Bang Theory in syndication.
• At the top, cable mostly posted declines in 2012. USA, though capping off a seventh consecutive year at No. 1, was down 10% in total viewers and 13% with adults 18-49. FX declined 8% in both marks, despite the launch of its new Charlie Sheen vehicle Anger Management. TNT, which said goodbye to The Closer this year, dipped 5% in viewers and 8% among adults 18-49.
• History grew 9% with total viewers in the year it aired the record-breaking miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, though it was flat with adults 18-49. A&E was also flat in the younger demo, though it ticked up 4% in total viewers, likely helped by the breakout hit Duck Dynasty. Sister network Lifetime also had a good year under the stewardship of Nancy Dubuc, gaining 7% in viewers and 14% in the 18-49 demo.
• Fox News Channel grew 10% among total viewers, driven by the interest in the presidential election, and was the No. 6 network on all of basic cable. MSNBC, though it has a smaller overall audience, saw greater gains, up 16% in viewers. Troubled CNN was the only major cable news network to post declines over 2011, down 4% in viewers.
• 2012 was not a good year for the Viacom networks, with five channels posting double-digit total viewer declines: Nick at Nite (-36%), MTV (-24%), Spike TV (-10%), Comedy Central (-25%) and BET (-10%). There was good news at least at VH1, with the network gaining 18% with adults 18-49 and 16% in viewers.
• AMC was up 11% with younger viewers thanks to the mega success of The Walking Dead, the fall’s top-rated entertainment series on TV, while sister nets We TV and IFC grew 4% and 3%, respectively.
• Though ratings at its two flagship networks Discovery Channel and TLC were mostly flat, many of Discovery Communications’ smaller networks posted double-digit viewer gains in 2012: Animal Planet (+15%), Investigation Discovery (+21%), OWN (+27%), Science (+14%), Military (+8%) and Velocity (+28%).
• In the Comcast-NBCU empire things were mostly status quo in the second year since the merger, with Syfy down 2%, Bravo down 6%, Oxygen down 2%, Style up 1% and G4 up 6% in the adults 18-49 demo. E! dipped a more substantial 12% as did Cloo (-36%). Spanich-language cabler mun2 grew the most, up 23% in the key demo.
• At Scripps, flagship channel Food network and HGTV were essentially flat with younger viewers, while Travel Channel was down 12% and DIY Network gained 18%.
• The top 5 networks remained the same, though there was some switching of positions. USA and Disney Channel repeated as number one and two, while TNT feel from third to fifth, bumping ESPN and History up a spot from last year.
Top 5 – Total Viewers (Primetime)*
USA: 2.97 million
Disney: 2.44 million
ESPN: 2.21 million
History: 2.19 million
TNT: 2.18 million
The top contenders were also the same year-over-year with younger viewers, although TBS moved from fifth to third place.
Top 5 – Adults 18-49 (Primetime)*
USA: 1.09 million
ESPN: 1.062 million
* All data is a blend of Final Live + 7 (12/26/11 – 11/25/2012) and Live + Same Day (11/26/12 – 12/09/12)