TOP 25 TV NETWORKS

After a tough three years, the top networks show strong growth, up 11% as a group from a year ago

The recession may not be over for all Americans, but it's largely over for TV networks. That's the conclusion of BROADCASTING & CABLE'S annual ranking of the top 25 television networks. After three years in which the sour economy sliced revenues for at least some of the big players, all but one of the largest networks posted gains. (Pay cable Starz!, which fell from the list, was hurt not by the recession but by a clash with its largest customer, Comcast.)

How They Fared by the Numbers
RANK NETWORK REV. ($MILLION) CHNG.** (%)
* Estimated 2003
** From B&C's 2002 estimates
NR = Not ranked; not on the list last year
Source: BROADCASTING & CABLE research; industry and company reports
1NBC4,461+8.6
2CBS4,050+10.3
3QVC3,800+5.9
4ABC3,190+10.4
5ESPN2,869+35.2
6FOX2,244+6.9
7HBO2,200+7.2
8HSN1,760+9.1
9TNT1,312+8.3
10NICK1,150+6.0
11SHOWTIME1,080+4.3
12USA1,015+2.6
13MTV975+15.1
14CNN876+6.4
15TBS871+9.0
16LIFETIME820+3.8
17DISCOVERY705+17.5
18THE WB660+11.5
19SHOPNBC620+5.3
20DISNEY610+10.5
21FOX NEWS600+9.1
22A&E589+19.0
23CINEMAX580+18.4
24UNIVISION568+7.4
25TLC550NR

The top 25 nets combined generated $38.2 billion in revenues, up 11% from their 2002 sales. Broadcast-network sales increased 9%; cable nets increased revenues 12%.

NBC is again the largest network, expected to generate $4.5 billion in sales by the time the year closes. CBS is second, bypassing shopping network QVC, whose domestic sales growth slowed markedly this year.

As in prior years, the rankings are based on estimated 2003 revenue, net of advertising commissions. They isolate individual networks, not network groups, and ignore broadcasters' TV-station groups and major production or syndication arms.

The fastest-growing network was ESPN, up 35%. One source of its growth has been a guaranteed 20% escalator in its license-fee contracts with cable operators. But the network is also enjoying stronger NFL ratings and the snapback of sports advertising, the first category to suffer when the recession started hitting.

Slower-growing networks include recession-challenged shopping channels QVC and ShopNBC ratings-challenged entertainment nets Lifetime and USA.

Two networks fell off the list. One is CNBC, which TLC and Univision passed by even though the financial network reversed its advertising decline. And Starz!'s estimated revenue is expected to plunge about 25%, from $579 million to around $429 million. The network lost one of its biggest sources of revenue when Comcast acquired AT&T Broadband and scrapped the insider deal Starz! had cut with AT&T's predecessor, Tele-Communications Inc.

The listing starts with estimates compiled from industry executives; Wall Street analysts Morgan Stanley's Richard Bilotti, Bear Stearns's Ray Katz and Merrill Lynch's Jessica Reif Cohen; Kagan Media; and company reports. Many networks offered guidance or simply coughed up their own budgets. But we won't say who cooperated and who didn't.

The viewership figure shown on the listing that follows is the average number of prime time viewers, persons age 2 and older.

1 NBC

2003 revenue: $4.46 billion
Owner: General Electric
Top executive: Robert Wright, chairman and CEO
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Broadcast
TV homes reached: 108.0M
Viewership: 12.2M
Hot property:Law & Order

2 CBS

2003 revenue: $4.05 billion
Owner: Viacom
Top executive: Leslie Moonves, president/CEO
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Broadcast
TV homes reached: 108.0M
Viewership: 12.9M
Hot property:Joan of Arcadia

3 QVC

2003 revenue: $3.80 billion
Owner: Liberty Media
Top executive: Douglas S. Briggs, president/CEO
Programming: Electronic retailing
Type: Cable
TV homes reached: 85.9M
Viewership: Not applicable
Hot property:Joan Rivers' Classic Collection

4 ABC

2003 revenue: $3.19 billion
Owner: The Walt Disney Co.
Top executive: Alex Wallau, president
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Broadcast
TV homes reached: 10.8M
Viewership: 9.8M
Hot property:Hope and Faith

5 ESPN

2003 revenue: $2.87 billion
Owner: Disney and The Hearst Corp.
Top executive: George Bodenheimer, president
Programming: Sports
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 88.2M
Viewership: 2.0M
Hot property:NFL Sunday Night Football

6 Fox

2003 revenue: $2.24 billion
Owner: News Corp.
Top executive: Sandy Grushow, chairman, Fox Television Entertainment Group
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Broadcast
TV homes reached: 106.0M
Viewership: 9.7M
Hot property:Arrested Development

7 HBO

2003 revenue: $2.20 billion
Owner: Time Warner Entertainment
Top executive: Chris Albrecht, chairman/CEO
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Pay cable
TV homes reached: 27.0M
Viewership: Not available
Hot property:Six Feet Under

8 HSN

2003 revenue: $1.76 billion
Owner: Interactive Corp.
Top executive: Mark Bozek, chairman/CEO
Programming: Retail shopping
Type: Cable
TV homes reached: 89.9M
Viewership: Not available
Hot property: Wolfgang Puck's Bistro Collection

9 TNT

2003 revenue: $1.30 billion
Owner: Time Warner
Top executive: Steve Koonin, EVP/COO, TBS/TNT
Programming: Dramatic entertainment
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 88.1M
Viewership: 1.8M
Hot property:NASCAR

10 NICKELODEON

2003 revenue: $1.15 billion
Owner: Viacom
Top executive: Herb Scannell, president
Programming: Children-oriented, daytime; adults 18-49, prime time
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 87.8M
Viewership: 2.0M
Hot property:The Fairly Odd Parents

11 SHOWTIME

2003 revenue: $1.08 billion
Owner: Viacom
Top executive: Matthew Blank, chairman/CEO
Programming: Movies, series, sports
Type: Premium television
TV homes reached: 22.0M
Viewership: Not available
Hot property:Dead Like Me

12 USA

2003 revenue: $1.01 billion
Owner: Vivendi Universal Entertainment
Top executive: Doug Herzog, president
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 88.2M
Viewership: 1.9M
Hot Property:Monk

13 MTV

2003 revenue: $975 million
Owner: Viacom
Top executive: Van Toffler, president
Programming: Music-oriented
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 86.8M
Viewership: 925,000
Hot property:Punk'd

14 CNN

2003 revenue: $876 million
Owner: Time Warner
Top executive: James Walton, president, CNN News Group
Programming: National and international news
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 88.1M
Viewership: 1.2M
Hot property:Larry King Live

15 TBS

2003 revenue: $871 million
Owner: Time Warner
Top executive: Steve Koonin, EVP/COO, TBS/TNT
Programming: General entertainment
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 87.9M
Viewership: 1.6M
Hot property:Seinfeld

16 LIFETIME

2003 revenue: $820 million
Owner: Disney and Hearst
Top executive: Carole Black, president/CEO
Programming: Women-oriented general entertainment
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 87.5M
Viewership: 2.0M
Hot property:Wildcard

17 DISCOVERY

2003 revenue: $705 million
Owner: Discovery Comm.
Top executive: William Campbell, president, Discovery Networks
Programming: Science-oriented entertainment
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 88.3M
Viewership: 1.1M
Hot property:American Chopper

18 THE WB

2003 revenue: $660 million
Owner: Time Warner and Tribune
Top executive: Jed Petrick, president/COO, The WB
Programming: Prime time general entertainment
Type: Broadcast
TV homes reached: 95.1M
Viewership: 1.1M
Hot property:One Tree Hill

19 SHOPNBC

2003 revenue: $620 million
Owner: ValueVision and NBC
Top executive: Gene McCaffery, president/CEO
Programming: Home shopping
Type: Basic cable
TV homes reached: 55.3M
Viewership: Not available

20 DISNEY

2003 revenue: $610 million
Owner: Walt Disney Co.
Top executive: Anne Sweeney, president, Disney Channel Worldwide
Programming: Kids and family entertainment
Type: Cable
TV homes reached: 83.6M
Viewership: 2.2M
Hot property:Lilo & Stitch

21 FOX NEWS

2003 revenue: $600 million
Owner: Fox Entertainment
Top executive: Roger Ailes, chairman/CEO
Programming: National and international news
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 84.8M
Viewership: 1.6M
Hot property:The O'Reilly Factor

22 A&E

2003 revenue: $589 million
Owner: Hearst Corp., ABC, NBC
Top executive: Abbe Raven, EVP/GM
Programming: Drama, original movies, documentaries
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 87.8M
Viewership: 928,000
Hot property:Cold Case Files

23 CINEMAX

2003 revenue: $580 million
Owner: Time Warner
Top executive: Chris Albrecht, chairman/CEO
Programming: Movies
Type: Pay cable
TV homes reached: 12.0M
Viewership: Not available
Hot property:Catch Me If You Can

24 UNIVISION

2003 revenue: $568 million
Owner: Univision Comm.
Top executive: Ray Rodriguez, president/COO
Programming: Spanish-language entertainment
Type: Broadcast
TV homes reached: 79.1M
Viewership: 3.1M
Hot property:Sabado Gigante

25 TLC

2003 revenue: $550 million
Owner: Discovery Comm.
Top executive: Roger Marmet, SVP/GM
Programming: Business news
Type: Ad-supported cable
TV homes reached: 86.8M
Viewership: 1.4M
Hot property:Trading Spaces