Cable is, once again, soaking up more than its share of the summer sun.
As they have in recent years, ad-supported cable networks continued to poach
viewers from broadcast rivals, earning a 60 share (up from 58 last summer) to
broadcast's 38 (down from 40). The gains are largely due to the slew of new
original dramas, such as TNT's record-breaking The
Closer and ABC Family's Wildfire, and strong
returning hits, including Lifetime's Missing, USA's
Monk and FX's Rescue Me.
But broadcast networks are encouraged by an overall increase in TV
viewing. While their new reality shows and reruns of procedural dramas have had
mixed results, combined summer viewing for broadcast and cable is up 1%
overall, proving that people are still happy to stay in, crank up the AC and
sample new TV fare.
More competitive than ever
“Summer used to be wide open for cable; the broadcasters were just out
to lunch,” says UPN President Dawn Ostroff. “With [broadcast] networks
introducing so much new reality, it is just more competitive than it has ever
And that includes the Big Four, which are closer than ever to each
other, even when they're without regular-season heavy-hitters, such as
Fox's American Idol, NBC's The
Apprentice and CBS' Survivor. From May 26
through July 17, ABC averaged a 2.4 rating in adults 18-49, while CBS, NBC and
Fox each scored a 2.1. (UPN was pulling a 1.0 and The WB a 0.9).
Broadcast's runaway summer hit, of course, is ABC's
Dancing With the Stars, which pulled in young and old
alike and nabbed a second-season pickup last week. The dance competition even
spawned a successful copycat: Fox's So You Think You Can
Dance earned a 4.4/14 rating/share in adults 18-49 and attracted 10
million total viewers when it premiered July 20.
Dancing's performance stood out from a batch of
misfires like CBS' The Cut and ABC's The
Scholar and modest performers like NBC's I Want To Be a
“It's still really a hit-or-miss strategy for the networks: throw
something up and see if it hits,” says Horizon Media's research chief Brad
Broadcast's summer scripted shows have largely fallen flat, and no one
illustrates that better than Fox. Last year, crowing about its 52-week
scheduling strategy, Fox unveiled six summer shows. This summer, the network
introduced just two and is pulling the exact same 2.1 rating in the 18-49 demo.
The Princes of Malibu has struggled to keep its
Simpsons lead-in in the demo (93% the first week, down to
69% the second week) and even hurt ratings for Family Guy,
which follows the show. The five new Family Guy episodes
that aired before Princes was introduced averaged a 3.7.
The next two, with a Princes lead-in, dropped to a 3.0 and
Repeats of scripted series have had mixed results. Fox's
House proved a hit by performing better in its early weeks
in reruns than it had in originals, but Desperate
Housewives and Lost have garnered lackluster
ratings on ABC. And CBS' stuffing its schedule with CSI
and Without a Trace reruns summer after summer has grown
tired: Last year, the Eye was pulling a 2.4 rating in the 18-49 demo; this year
that's down to a 2.1.
Few breakout hits
Both of the summer's major limited series, ABC's Roman saga
Empire and TNT's $100 million Spielberg Western
Into the West, fell off steadily throughout their
As summer nights dwindle, cable will likely continue strong. Some of its
bigger originals are still to debut, notably FX's Over
There, TNT's Wanted and Lifetime's limited
series Beach Girls. Bravo, MTV and Sci Fi all have fresh
batches of reality shows premiering in August, but so far, cable's summer
reality has produced few breakout hits and several middling shows—Bravo's
Being Bobby Brown and Comedy Central's
Stella among the latter.
As for broadcast, NBC might yet pull out of its ratings slump. With
Tommy Lee Goes to College, The Law
Firm and Meet Mr. Mom coming up, it's the
only network with an arsenal of summer reality series still to premiere.