Girls beat Waterboy

Lifetime tops second-quarter prime time cable Nielsens

The girls benched the waterboys as Lifetime outran USA Network to grab first place in the prime time cable Nielsens for the second quarter. The female-oriented network scored a 1.9 household rating for the three months ended July 1, beating out USA's 1.8.

USA was hoping to do better, making a Hail Mary play for a tie last week by throwing the Adam Sandler theatrical The Waterboy
on the Sunday schedule just three days in advance, bumping the tired Indecent Proposal. The Waterboy
had gotten a 5.0 in its first airing the prior week, and USA was trying to keep its rating up to at least 1.75, which Nielsen would round up to a 1.8. If Lifetime had slipped just a bit last week to round down to a 1.8, then USA would have tied for first.

Alas, the Lifetime lasses held on at a 1.86 and will get reported in first place by anyone reporting such things. "It was pretty dramatic at the end," said Lifetime CEO Carole Black, who has now shepherded the network into first place for two consecutive quarters. "I'm just thrilled because of the whole team working so hard."

USA could have used something to brag about. The network's ratings are down 12% while adults 18-49 plunged 19% and adults 25-54 fell 11%. That's largely the price of losing WWF wrestling to TNN last fall, but not entirely. TNT and Cartoon Network tied for third with a 1.7, but TNT's rating dropped 11%, and the once-growing Cartoon was flat. TBS came in fourth at a 1.6, down 16%.

The biggest gainer in prime time was TNN, which soared 67% to a 1.0, in large part on the strength of the aforesaid WWF shift. The wrestling shows are the cornerstone of the network's attempt at a total overhaul at the hands of relatively new owner Viacom, which is about 10 months into a programming renovation.

Betsy Frank, executive vice president of research for Viacom's MTV Networks, said that TNN is benefiting from stronger acquisitions of movies and series than TNN had under previous owner CBS and that the network seems to be doing a better job of retaining its wrestling audience for other shows than USA ever did. The WWF is a huge boost, with just two hours of its standard 5.0 ratings materially juicing TNN's prime time rating for the whole week.

Frank said that TNN would still have had a "double-digit" percentage gain even without the strong effects of the WWF.

Other gainers include The Travel Channel, Bravo and Odyssey, each up 33%, to a 0.4. Food Network rose 25%, to a 0.5, and BET rose 20%, to a 0.6. The big prime time losers were ESPN2 (-20%), ESPN (-18%), USA, Nickelodeon (-17%), TBS (-16%) and AMC (-13%).

Only 11 of the 43 Nielsen-rated basic networks posted a gain for the quarter. Another 10 were down, the remainder flat or not rated last year.

Nickeloden remained the top-rated network on a total-day basis at a 1.4. Lifetime was second with a 1.2.