Cable climb continues

Broadcast season premieres don't hold on to those fickle summer viewers of 'Survivor,' 'Millionaire'

Not everybody loves
, or the Yankees, or

Will & Grace,

or even
The West Wing.

In fact, a growing number of people prefer

Dragon Ball Z


Cable viewership continued its slow but steady growth in October against the new fall broadcast season and the World Series, and broadcast slipped, despite a fresh schedule with 35 new shows.

During the summer, the broadcast networks appeared to stanch the audience erosion on the power of

, but the momentum didn't last. Combined cable viewership showed about 2% growth over October 1999, according to early estimates, compared with an equal ratings decline for the broadcast networks. Cable's collective U.S. rating (percentage of the 100.08 million television households) rose from a 23.6 last year to a 24.0, for the first three weeks of October. The Big Four broadcast networks pulled in a 31.5 rating this year, compared with a 33.1 last year. All seven broadcast nets together generated a 35.4, compared with a 37 last year.

"What they need is another

or another

Without that, they slip right back into the mold of the last 15 years," said Lifetime Senior Vice President of Research Tim Brooks. "They've allowed cable to build these brands-Lifetime, Nick, CNN and now Cartoon-and these brands are much stronger than shows. Having let that genie out of that bottle and letting those brands build themselves, they can't get it back in the bottle again."

It was actually niche networks and news that powered cable through October. Cartoon Network tied TBS for the top spot in prime time with a 1.9, up 12% from last year on the growing power of
Dragon Ball Z.

A & E also pulled in its best October rating with a 1.4, up 8% over last year, with two powerful

episodes: one on Barbara Walters, which pulled in a 2.7, and one on Robert Redford, which earned a 2.4.

News networks made the greatest gains for the month, fueled by presidential politics and violence in the Middle East. FOX News Channel tied CNN at a 0.9 for the month; they were up 125% and 29%, respectively. MSNBC jumped 33%, to a 0.4.

The cable networks that didn't show gains in October were those that most resemble broadcast networks. Though No.1 in prime time with a 1.9 cable rating, TBS was off 5% from last year. TBS sister TNT came in flat at No. 7 with a 1.4. USA dropped 29% to No. 6 with a 1.5. FOX Family at No. 17 was down 30% to a 0.7, tying with FX, an emerging general-entertainment net from FOX that was down 13% from last year. TNN was the only general entertainment network to register growth, up 38%, from a 0.8 to a 1.1, thanks to the addition of WWF wrestling.

USA Cable Vice President of Research Ray Giacopelli said networks like USA were hurt more by the late fall broadcast season than niche networks were because they saved their good stuff for later. USA also lost the WWF, but the network had started slipping before that.

"We're not airing any originals right now," said Giacopelli. "We'll do originals again in January. We were trying to do theme weeks with our movies, like horror or suspense, and what we've found is that people are still looking for a title, not a theme, unless it's very promotable."

Brooks attributed a downward trend among general-entertainment cable networks to the lack of brand identification. "TBS for example, there's nothing specific you think of when you think of TBS. In cable today, you have to have a strong brand and fulfill it," he said. "That's [Nickelodeon's] problem. Nick doesn't fulfill it at night."

Nickelodeon has dominated total day for five years, but it is slipping in prime time, down 20% this month from last year, though still tied with Lifetime at No. 4.

"Two or three years ago, Nick had shows with more of a strong edge to them," Brooks said. "They're safer now, almost PBS safe. The


is a fine program but not a brand program. [Nick] used to be a kids-against-the-world brand. Now it's kids with understanding parents telling them how to live their life. I would be bullish on MTV: Whatever you think of
, it's definitely the brand."

, a new series from the skateboard culture that critics pounded, pulled in high 2.0s for MTV, helping end a four-month slide. The network was flat for the month with a 0.9.n