Sports Rules Cable Nielsens


October delivered mostly ratings treats for basic-cable networks, although news viewing slowed compared with a year ago, when the D.C. sniper story captivated viewers.

On the strength of its football and baseball coverage, ESPN powered to the top of the cable pile with a 2.4 average rating in prime and 2.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Ratings soared 41% compared with October 2002. ESPN's Oct. 26 NFL telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs-Buffalo Bills game, which scored a 7.8 rating, reigned as the month's highest-rated show.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all suffered declines in October. Fox still has the best marks, a 1.0 rating in prime and 1.1 million viewers, but is off about 30% from last year. CNN recorded a 0.7 average in prime, with about 773,000 viewers, a 35% drop in both categories. And MSNBC was off 40% to a 0.3 rating and 258,000 viewers. Compared with September data, though, the three news channels ratings were largely unchanged.

The Disney Channel nabbed a 1.9 average in prime and 2.2 million viewers, up about 35%. TNT harvested a 1.8 rating with 2 million viewers, up 13%; Nickelodeon also tallied a 1.8 rating and 2 million viewers, on par with year ago. And USA Network, which has received a nice boost from adding off-nets of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
in prime, climbed 13% in ratings to a 1.7 average. In total viewers, it was basically flat at 1.8 million.