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Cable Gains 4% Despite Broadcast Stars

In a banner year for the broadcast networks-thanks to blockblusters such as Who Wants To Be a Millionaire
and Survivor
-basic cable managed to rack up a 4 percent gain in the 2000 primetime ratings.

Cable's primetime household numbers bumped up to a 26.3 rating from a 25.4 last year, according to Turner Entertainment Research from Nielsen Media Research data released last week. Those statistics include 52 of the 53 weeks in Nielsen's 2000 broadcast year.

Last year, the broadcast networks also posted a primetime gain, but less than cable's. That's despite the fact CBS was buoyed by its group of island castaways and ABC got a rocket-propelled lift from Regis Philbin's popular quiz show.

The "Big Three" broadcast networks-ABC, CBS and NBC-garnered a 24.7 rating in primetime, up 2 percent from last year's 24.1. All seven broadcast outlets-a group that also includes Fox, United Paramount Network, The WB Television Network and Pax TV-saw their combined ratings increase by 1 percent, to a 31.9 versus 31.5 a year ago.

Among individual cable networks, USA Network emerged as No. 1 in primetime last year, with a 2.1 rating.

Nickelodeon continued its reign as the winner in total-day, with a 1.5 rating. Nick has held the No. 1 slot in total-day for five years now.

Despite broadcast's strong showing last year-and cable's slowing rate of ratings growth-TV viewership received its biggest gains from cable last year, according to Turner Broadcasting System Inc vice president of audience development Robert Sieber.

Last year, cable's delivery of viewers age 2 and older increased by nearly 2 million, or 6 percent, to 36.2 million in primetime, according to Turner research. The seven broadcast networks were up only 3 percent, or 1.5 million persons, to 46.8 million.

"Cable is still driving growth in TV," Sieber said. "We grew total viewing in this country."

Basic cable posted particularly strong growth in the advertiser-attractive 18-to-49 demographic. It was up 8 percent in that age group in primetime, to a 12.7 rating, double its household growth rate.

By contrast, the Big Three were up only 3 percent in that demographic, and the seven broadcasters saw a 2-percent increase in ratings for that age group. The year 2000 for broadcast, according to Sieber, reflected a particularly strong showing he doesn't expect to see duplicated this year.

"There were special influences on the broadcast side," he said. "This is not a long-term situation."

In primetime, Millionaire-
boosted ABC last year saw a whopping 18-percent increase in its household ratings, to a 8.7. UPN was up a huge 24 percent, to a 2.6, while Pax TV also posted a sizable gain, up 29 percent to a 0.9.

According to Nielsen data released by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau last week, for the new season-to-date [its first 12 weeks] ad-supported cable's primetime delivery is up almost 8 percent, by 1.9 million homes, to 26 million compared with the same period last year. Cable's primetime ratings season-to-date have seen an increase of just over 6 percent, to 25.5.

The Big Four, for their part, have slipped 3 percent in the season-to-date primetime ratings, to a 30.4 from 31.4, according to the CAB. And their delivery is down 1.6 percent, by 513,000 households, to 31.1 million from 31.6 million.

With just one week remaining in 2000, USA last week was assured a victory in primetime with a 2.1 rating, two-tenths ahead of No. 2 TBS Superstation, with its 1.9.

"This is the third consecutive year that USA has been the top-rated basic cable network in prime and the ninth of the past 11 that we have been unbeaten," Ray Giacopelli, USA's vice president of research, said in a prepared statement.

Cartoon Network expected to close 2000 in third place for primetime, with a 1.8 rating. Through Dec. 17 [or 51 of 53 weeks of 2000], in fourth place in primetime, several networks were tied with a 1.7: Lifetime Television, Nick and Turner Network Television.

In total day for last year, first-place Nick was followed by Cartoon Network, Lifetime and TBS, which each were expected to post a 1.1 rating.