2002: Cable's Breakout Nielsen Year

In a year in which basic cable passed the broadcasters in primetime viewership for the first time, it was a mixed scorecard for individual networks.

Overall, basic cable averaged a 28.3 household rating in primetime during 2002, a 6.4 percent gain from its 26.6 average in 2001, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data for the periods Jan. 1 through Dec. 29, 2002 and Jan. 1 through Dec. 29, 2001.

That performance helped push basic-cable's delivery up 9.1 percent to 29.9 million households on average from 27.5 in 2001, while its share rose 6.9 percent to a 48.1 from a 45.0.

With the weighted gross rating of the seven broadcast networks off 3.1 percent to a 27.1 — and their share falling 4.1 to a 46.4 from a 48.4 in the prior year — 2002 marked the first calendar year in which basic cable topped broadcast in primetime.

"We had projected that cable would beat broadcast for the first time for a full TV season in primetime during 2002-03, and that happened in 2001-02. Obviously, we're also very pleased that ad-supported cable has won the 2002 calendar year," said CAB spokesman Steve Raddock. "Cable had a strong fourth quarter, with a final-week share well above 50. That bodes well for even better performances in 2003."

Individual performances

As expected, Lifetime Television was again No. 1 among basic-cable networks at a 2.0, even though its household rating was flat, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen data from Dec. 31, 2001 through Dec. 29, 2002. The women's targeted network — which generated leadership numbers among all of the key female demographic sets, including the 18-to-34, 18-to-49 and 25-to-54 groups — became only the fourth cable network to repeat as household champion.

Turner Network Television recorded a 13 percent gain to place second with a 1.8, easing past the 1.7 average for both Nickelodeon (up 6 percent) and USA Network (even). Cartoon Network, down 6 percent, was fifth at a 1.6, followed by ESPN (ahead 15 percent), which benefited from a strong football season, and TBS Superstation (off 12 percent), each at a 1.5.

Fox News Channel, which registered a 20 percent advance, was eighth at a 1.2, besting TLC (up 11 percent), as well as Discovery Channel and A&E Network (both down 17 percent). All three of those networks closed 2002 with a 1.0 average.

Individually, 14 of the 49 networks covered by Turner achieved household ratings amelioration, while 16 sustained decreases and 14 others were flat. WE: Women's Entertainment (0.3), Discovery Health Channel (0.2), Great American Country (0.2), The Speed Channel (0.2) and Muchmusic USA were gauged for the first time, so prior-year comparisons were unavailable.

Among the industry's winners: MTV: Music Television, ahead 13 percent to a 0.9; Sci Fi Channel, driven by a Taken
-inspired fourth-place finish in December, up 13 percent to a 0.9; Court TV, ABC Family and FX, all of which posted 14 percent gains to close at a 0.8; Food Network, which carved a 20 percent advance to a 0.6; and Hallmark Channel, up 25 percent to a 0.5.

On the down side: TNN: The National Network, off 10 percent to a 0.9; History Channel, down 11 percent to a 0.8; SoapNet, which posted a 29 percent decrease to 0.5; and Bravo and Travel Channel, both down one-fourth to a 0.3.

On the news watch, Fox News was the only service to post an increase. Cable News Network's primetime average fell 10 percent to a 0.9, while MSNBC dropped by one-third to 0.4, CNBC by half to a 0.2, and Headline News one-third to a 0.2 average. Measured on a 24-hour basis, Fox News grew 17 percent to 0.7, while CNN declined by a like rate to a 0.5. MSNBC (down 25 to 0.3) and CNBC (off 33 percent to 0.2) also lost ground in total day. Headline News was flat at 0.2.

Adult additions

The news was far better for the industry among adults 18 to 49, the group most coveted by advertisers. Network programming and Madison Avenue executives will be pleased to find that of the 49 networks tracked by Turner, 29 of them recorded gains against this demo in primetime, versus 13 that declined and two that were flat. (Comparisons were not available for the other five.)

TNT was first among this group, averaging 991,000 of those viewers. Its 3 percent gain from 2001 was enough to nip USA, which registered 11 percent amelioration to net 989,000 of those viewers.

TBS was third with 929,000, despite a 10 percent drop, while Lifetime, up 6 percent, and ESPN, ahead 24 percent, ranked fourth and fifth, with 863,000 and 861,000 of those viewers, respectively.

Rounding out the top 10: TLC, which posted a 13 percent increase to 657,000; TNN, which gained 9 percent to 654,000; MTV, up 36 percent to 609,000; Discovery, off 12 percent to 578,000; and Sci Fi, which rose 20 percent to 558,000.

Gauged on a total-day basis, Nickelodeon was once again the industry leader, extending its streak to more than seven years (29 consecutive quarters). Nick posted a 7 percent gain to a 1.5, beating Lifetime's 1.2, Cartoon's 1.1, TBS's 1.0 and TNT's 0.9. All of those networks were even when compared with 2001.

Sports and grappling

A look at the year's top 100 shows reveals that sports programming, particularly football and stock-car racing, were well represented. According to the Turner analysis, sports accounted for 36 of the top 100 shows in 2002.

ESPN's National Football League coverage set the pace, tackling 18 of the top 20 spots overall, including the top six. The expansion Houston Texans' Sept. 8 upset of their intrastate rival, the Dallas Cowboys, ranked first overall with a 9.6 household rating. All told, pigskin action grabbed a quarter of the chart's positions — 20 NFL games, lead-in NFL PrimeTime
and four college contests.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) revved up eight times overall — for seven races (six on TNT, one on FX) and a post-race presentation (TNT).

The World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the U.S. and Germany on the morning of June 21 (a 4.4 on ESPN); baseball's All-Star Home Run Derby on July 8 (No. 18 with a 6.1 for ESPN); and the May 20 NBA Western Conference final game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings (a 4.6 for TNT) all made the list.

Entertainment shows took 26 spots, with Viacom Inc. vehicles taking the lion's share. Seven installments of The Osbournes
and three episodes of Real World XI
played big for MTV, while the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards
ranked seventh overall, drawing an 8.3 on Aug. 29, and the VMA Post-Show
was No. 37.

The 2002 MTV Movie Awards
on June 6 placed at No. 23, garnering a 5.6 rating.

A trio of movies from TNT, Lifetime and TBS all made the top 100, paced by the latter's original action flick, Atomic Twister
(which posted a 5.9 on June 9). The other entertainment entries: the 4.7 on June 16 for the premiere of USA's The Dead Zone, the best series bow in basic history; and the initial installment of Sci Fi's maxiseries Taken, which took a 4.9 on Dec. 2.

The rest of the top shows — 38 in all — belonged to TNN and World Wrestling Entertainment. Underlining the notion that the sports-entertainment circuit's cyclical appeal crested a couple of years back, though, is the fact that only one show from the year's second half — on July 22 — pinned a spot on the list.