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ESPN Unseats USA Atop Cable Primetime Ratings in 2014

The worldwide leader was on top of Nielsen’s primetime cable world in 2014.

Averaging nearly 2.32 million watchers, ESPN set the cable pace in the daypart during 2014, according to Nielsen data. The sports network unseated USA Network, which averaged 2.13 million watchers. TNT, Disney Channel and History rounded out the top five, with 1.99 million, 1.91 million and 1.824 million watchers, respectively.

According to a Disney Media Networks analysis of Nielsen (reflecting a blend of live+seven-day data from Dec. 30, 2013 through Dec. 14 and live+same-day data from Dec. 15 through Dec. 28), TBS was sixth with 1.817 million, ahead of Fox News Channel’s 1.78 million. FX was eighth with 1.40 million, slightly ahead of Discovery Channel’s 1.39 million. HGTV completed the top 10, averaging 1.34 million watchers.

Finishing just outside the top 10: AMC, whose zombie skein The Walking Dead dominated the upper echelon of programming rankings, averaging 1.33 million watchers; Cartoon Nework, with 1.28 million; A&E, which tallied almost 1.26 million; and ABC Family at 1.20 million.

Gauged on a total-day basis, perennial winner Nickelodeon took home the prize again with 1.51 million watchers on average, ahead of rival Disney Channel, which closed the Nielsen calendar with just under 1.4 million. Adult Swim (1.18 million), USA (1.16 million) and Fox News (1.06 million) rounded out the top 5 in this measure.

How dominant was The Walking Dead? The show, which benefits greatly from time-shifted viewing, chomped 16 of the top 20 spots, including nine of the top 10, headed by almost 23.4 million for the bow of its fifth campaign on Oct. 12. That installment was illustrative of how the show grows with delayed viewing, The premiere garnered 17.3 million watchers, a record for a cable drama, but the installment tacked on an additional 6.1 million watchers to its total on the live+7-day measure.

ESPN’s college and pro football coverage scored the other eight spots. The final BCS Championship game, Florida State’s last-second win over Auburn on Jan. 6 (pictured), was cable’s top show of 2014, tomahawk-chopping over 25.7 million watchers.