Nibbling away at broadcast

Cable grows to 46.0 audience share as broadcast nets slip to 50.1

Despite a Friends
baby on NBC, dinosaurs on ABC and another Survivor
finale on CBS, cable networks stole a little more audience from broadcast networks in May.

The seven broadcast networks lost 21/2 share points since May 2001, sliding to a 50.1, while cable's take increased four points, to a 46.0 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. "Cable networks aren't all going after the same viewers," explained Lifetime's head of research Tim Brooks.

Cable's advance was fueled by strong ratings from a host of channels. Lifetime won the month with a 2.0 average prime time rating, followed by TNT and Nickelodeon tied for second with 1.9 ratings. Cartoon Network and TBS, both with 1.6 ratings, rounded out the top five. FX scored a strong 1.0 rating, up 25% from last May, via its controversial, highly publicized cop show,
The Shield.

Fox News remains the top-rated cable news net, with a 1.0 average in prime. CNN averaged a 0.8. The see-saw ratings competition between CNN's NewsNight With Aaron Brown
and Fox News'On the Record With Greta Van Susteren
tipped to the latter in May; Van Susteren beat Brown by 46,000 households.

Cable's growth in May is particularly significant given the fierce competition from broadcast during May sweeps. "Cable networks are spending more and getting smarter about promotions," said Jack Wakshlag, Turner Broadcasting's research meister.

Original series and sports fueled cable's success. Originals like The Osbournes
on MTV and Lifetime's Sunday-night dramas earned strong ratings (the May 7 play of The Osbournes
commanded a 5.6 rating, the month's highest single-show rating). NASCAR racing on FX and NBA playoffs on TNT and TBS also were big performers.

Some niche nets slipped. History's ratings dipped 22%, and Comedy Central, Bravo and MSNBC were down 25% each. But losses often look steeper because ratings are rounded to the tenth of a point.