New York -- Turner Broadcasting System chief research officer Jack Wakshlag briefed reporters on the state of ad-supported television at Time Warner Center here Wednesday.
2008 is shaping up to be an unusually busy summer, kicking off with the National Basketball Association Finals on ABC, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on NBC and its networks and the upcoming presidential election dominating cable news programming.
Still, Turner’s research guru said that when you look at the numbers, the clear winner is cable.
Wakshlag compared this summer to last, as well as 2004 -- when there was a presidential election and the Athens Olympics -- to see if there were any trends.
According to Wakshlag, the number of total viewers and demo viewers has gone up since 2004, to the tune of 8% and 10%, respectively. However, while the number of viewers is increasing, the portion of the pie controlled by the broadcast networks is falling. In 2004, an average person would watch 14.5 hours of cable per week and 8.3 hours of broadcast. Now they watch 15.7 hours of cable and 6.8 hours of broadcast.
Both NBC and ABC have seen ratings spikes this summer, thanks to the NBA Finals on ABC in early June and the Olympics currently running on NBC. Once those special events are taken out of the equation, cable still dominates the summer entertainment-programming game, led by NBC Universal-owned USA Network and Turner-owned TNT.
Wakshlag added that viewers are just as passionate about cable programs as they are broadcast programs, examining digital-video-recorder measurements to see which shows viewers are recording to watch later.
Wakshlag and his team compared original cable programming from the summer to broadcast programming from May, when the networks were still presenting a significant amount of original entertainment content. Nine of the top 10 shows with the most lift were on cable, with the lone exception being NBC’s The Office.
On the news front, broadcast news programs are slowly losing viewers, while the cable networks are gaining viewers. Each of the top three evening-news broadcasts were off about 500,000 viewers compared to 2004, using data taken before the Beijing Olympics got under way.
As people decide to get their news on their own terms and their own time, tuning in at 6:30 every night is simply a less attractive option than tuning into a cable news channel whenever they feel like it, or going online.