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Cable Has a Steady Month

Its audience grows despite broadcast's batch of reality events 3/02/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

For all the buzz about broadcast reality shows in February, cable channels still managed to build viewership. Basic-cable channels tallied a 31.1 total household rating in February, up from a 27.2 rating in February 2002, according to Nielsen Media Research data from Turner Broadcasting.

Selected Slips
Network Viewers 2+ (000) % CHG.
Source: Turner Broadcasting, Nielsen Media Research
ABC Family 717 -29%
Lifetime 1,810 -22%
Discovery 1,040 -18%
Cartoon Net 1,590 -17%
A&E 1,030 -11%

The seven broadcast networks harvested a 31.8 rating, down from 35.1 a year ago, when, of course, NBC had the Winter Olympics on its air. Still, February was sweeps month, and cable held its own.

"Cable's strength has not been built on quick fixes and flavors de jour
like Joe Millionaire
and The Bachelorette," said Lifetime's head of research Tim Brooks. "It's been built on brands and whole networks."

The best example of that in February was TNT. For the second straight month, TNT lead the cable pack with a robust 2.1 average in prime time and 2.5 million viewers, up about 30% from last year.

A potent ratings mix of dramas like Law & Order,
National Basketball Association games and theatrical movies fueled its success.

Says Turner Broadcasting Chief Research Officer Jack Wakshlag, "Every network needs to find its own way to success. TNT has [done it] by establishing its drama brand." TNT's tagline is "We Know Drama."

Nickelodeon followed in second with a 1.8 average and 2.1 million viewers. Lifetime, occupying an unfamiliar spot, found itself tied for third with the Fox News Channel (see page 20) with a 1.7 prime time average and 1.8 million viewers. Lifetime's marks were off about 20% from last year, and it was Television for Women's second straight month of decline.

Brooks contends that some of Lifetime's female viewers were lured away last month to broadcast's reality shows.

Viewers did flock to some cable programs last month.

TNT's National Basketball Association All Star Game Feb. 9 was the month's most-watched program, posting a blistering 8.2 rating with 10.8 million viewers. USA's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
on Feb. 11 fetched a 4.2 rating and 5.3 million viewers, and TLC's Trading Spaces
continued to grab strong ratings, as did Nick's SpongeBob SquarePants
and Fairly Odd Parents.

Some of cable's much hyped originals, though, looked stagnant or fading in February. Ratings for USA Network's original psychic drama The Dead Zone— which faced tough Sunday-night competition from broadcast networks—slipped as low as a 1.9. MTV's The Osbournes'
ratings have fallen off in households and key demos.

On FX, The Shield,
which debuted its second season with a 3.6 in January, saw ratings fluctuate between a 2.3 and 2.7 last month. (The show is holding still, nearly matching its season one average.)

Of course, compared with their channel's prime time averages, these shows are overachievers. Says MTV Network's head of research Betsy Frank, "Against our target audience, there's nothing that rates higher than the Osbournes."

Notable Winners
Network Viewers 2+ (000) % CHG.
Source: Turner Broadcasting, Nielsen Media Research
Fox News 1,770 47%
Sci Fi Channel 1,110 41%
ESPN 1,130 48%
History Channel 1,020 28%
HGTV 848 33%
November