Cable Challenges Broadcast During Feb. Sweeps

USA Network and Turner Network Television helped to lead the cable industry to a solid showing against the sweeps-boosted broadcast networks during February.

Cable posted a 48.2 share Jan. 26-Feb. 29, up 5% from last year, according to a Lifetime Television analysis of Nielsen Media Research data, falling just short of the seven broadcast networks’ cumulative share of 49.3, which was flat against the prior year.

Given the highly competitive span -- during which the broadcasters rolled out new episodes of signature shows like Fox’s American Idol -- Lifetime senior vice president of research and TV historian Tim Brooks said cable more than held its own and is poised for a strong finish to the TV season.

"March and April should be good for cable, with May being the next big burst for broadcast," Brooks said. "There’s a real possibility that this broadcast season [September-May] could fall to cable."

On the individual-network front, USA rode the strength of original detective skein Monk to a first-place tie with TNT in primetime with a 2.1 household rating, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen data.

USA posted a 31% increase during the period compared with 2002, while TNT was even.

TNT -- on the strength of the Law & Order franchise and its Feb. 14-16 National Basketball Association All-Star Weekend coverage -- averaged the most viewers in February among adults 18-34 (527,000), 18-49 (1.18 million) and 25-54 (1.26 million).

Nickelodeon was a close third with a 2.0 rating, up 11% over last year, with Disney Channel (1.7, up 13%) and TBS Superstation (1.5, down 6%) placing fourth and fifth, respectively.

Lifetime (1.4, off 18%), Cartoon Network (1.4, flat), Fox News Channel (1.2, down 29%), ESPN (1.1, up 10%) and Discovery Channel (1.1, ahead 22%) rounded out the top 10.

Nickelodeon remained tops on a total-day basis with a 1.7 rating, besting TNT and Disney, each with a 1.2. Lifetime and Cartoon finished were next with a 1.0 apiece.

Several networks posted significant primetime ratings gains last month.

New episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy helped to boost Bravo to a 0.5 rating, a 67% jump over the prior-year period, while a new primetime lineup featuring more lifestyle programming helped Speed Channel to garner a 50% year-to-year increase to a 0.3 from a 0.2.

Other networks posting double-digit, year-to-year increases for February included: MTV: Music Television, History Channel and A&E Network (all at a 1.0 rating, up 11%); Spike TV and Home & Garden Television (both at a 0.9, up 13%); AMC (0.9, up 29%); Lifetime Movie Network (0.8, up 14%); Hallmark Channel (0.8, up 33%); ABC Family (0.8, up 33%); Comedy Central (0.7, up 14%); GSN (0.6, up 20%); and Travel Channel (0.4, up 33%).

Among the networks that slipped in February: The Learning Channel (0.9, down 10%); Court TV (0.8, down 11%); Cable News Network (0.8, down 27%); TV Land (0.7, down 13%); TV Guide Channel (0.4, down 20%); The Weather Channel (0.3, down 25%); MSNBC (0.3, down 25%); and CNN Headline News (0.2, down 33%).

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.