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Basic Cable Scores 'Early' Victory

With an extended run of 50-plus-share weeks this summer, basic cable pushed past broadcast in primetime for the first time for a full TV season — one year ahead of projections.

On a collective basis, basic cable beat broadcast in primetime household ratings by 28.2 to 27.7 margin from Sept. 24, 2001 to Sept. 22, 2002, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

That was a 47.9 share, versus 47.0 for the seven broadcast networks.

On a delivery basis, cable scored an average of 29.7 million households, compared with 29.2 million for broadcast.

CAB and other Nielsen observers had predicted that the current 2002-03 TV season would propel basic cable to its first full-season primetime win.

But new shows like USA Network's The Dead Zone
and Monk; continuing hits like Lifetime Television's The Division
and Strong Medicine; and emerging interest in programming like The Learning Channel's Trading Spaces
coalesced this summer.

"The old argument that broadcast is TV's mass-reach medium has been laid to rest by last season's results, and by what we project will be cable's growing dominance of TV viewing in the new 2002-03," CAB CEO Joe Ostrow said. "This represents growing value and impact for those advertisers who increase their investments in cable."

Basic cable surged before and after the May sweeps period.

"There were 16 weeks of 52 and 53 shares for ad-supported cable. We were a lot stronger than expected, and broadcast decreased," said CAB spokesman Steve Raddock. "We had a strong week (Sept. 16 to Sept. 22) to finish the 2001-02 season, even though there were a lot of broadcast openers during the 'pre-premiere' period. That's a good sign for even more viewership growth this year."

Cable enjoyed an increase of 8.5 percent in ratings, from a 26.0 in the 2000-01 season (Oct. 2, 2000 through Sept. 23, 2001). The medium also rose 8.9 percent in share, from a 44.0; and 11.4 percent in delivery, from 26.7 million households.

Conversely, the CAB found that broadcast sustained a 4.4 percent drop in primetime ratings, from a 29.0 in 2000-01; a 4.1 percent decline in share, from a 49.0; and a 1.5 percent decrease in delivery, from 29.7 million households.

Five broadcast networks sustained primetime ratings drops in the last TV season, according to CAB. ABC was the biggest loser, down 23.7 percent to a 5.8 average. Two broadcasters bucked that trend: NBC, up 8.2 percent (to a 7.9); and UPN, up 4.3 percent (2.4).