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Cable's Ratings Surge Takes Rare Misstep

Basic cable slipped in the primetime ratings two weeks ago, compared to a year-earlier period skewed by the changes in viewing and scheduling patterns wrought by the aftermath of Sept. 11.

The medium saw its household ratings slide 5.6 percent to a 26.8 from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6, from the 28.4 recorded during the week of Oct. 1 through Oct. 7, 2001, according to a Cabletelevision Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

The CAB attributed the decline to the year-ago delay of the Major League Baseball playoffs and the heightened tune-in to cable news networks in the period that followed the terrorist attacks.

Basic cable also sustained a 3.5 percent drop in share to 44.4, while delivery declined 4.5 percent to 28.6 million households from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.

Over the same span, the weighted gross ratings for the seven broadcast networks improved 2.9 percent to a 35.6, from a 34.6 rating in the year-prior period. Broadcast's share was up 11.2 to a 54.7, while its delivery grew 9.2 percent to over 35 million.

"If not for the baseball playoffs and the extraordinary news events of 2001, [the] gap between cable and broadcast would have almost gone away [two weeks ago]," said CAB president and CEO Joe Ostrow in a statement.

Meanwhile, ESPN, driven by its National Football League coverage, swept all of the key adult demos and tied for the household ratings lead in primetime for the week in question.

The total-sports network averaged a 1.9 household rating from Sept. 30 through Oct. 6, tying it with Lifetime Television for the top weekly spot, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

ESPN was buoyed by the most-watched show on basic cable — its Oct. 6 Baltimore Ravens-Cleveland Browns Sunday Night Football
game, which tackled a 5.9 household rating.

USA Network and Nickelodeon were third with a 1.6, ahead of the 1.5 averages for Turner Network Television and Cartoon Network.

Rounding out the top 10: ABC Family, which gained from Major League Baseball coverage (1.4); TBS Superstation and Fox News Channel (each at 1.2); and Discovery Channel and TLC (both at 1.0).

The NFL game also pushed ESPN to the head of the demo class. ESPN was watched by an average of 596,000 viewers aged 18 to 34, 1.22 million among the 18-to-49 set, and 1.21 million adults 25 to 54.

Gauged on a total-day basis, Nickelodeon, with its ubiquitous SpongeBob SquarePants
claiming 16 of the top 50 highest-rated shows of the week, ranked first with a 1.4. Lifetime was second with a 1.0, while Cartoon was third. ESPN, TNT and USA were next, each averaging a 0.8.