Lifetime Leads the Niche Nets' Reign

Led by women's network Lifetime Television, niche-focused and specialty networks made the biggest strides in the primetime and total-day ratings during 2001, while the general-entertainment networks sustained heavy erosion over the same span.

Lifetime — which finished at No. 1 in the monthly primetime household ratings race seven times in 2001 — will take the top ratings spot for the year, with a 1.9 rating, according to a Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data through Dec. 16. The network also posted a year-to-year gain of 12 percent, the only one of the top five to register a gain.

"We're pleased and humbled with our performance," Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said. "When a network that has a targeted niche audience like Lifetime can actually get that sizable an audience, it speaks volumes to the appeal of the brand, rather than a particular show or special."

And Lifetime was just one of several niche-targeted services that enjoyed a ratings surge this year. Black Entertainment Television tallied a 20 percent increase over last year; Food Network was up 25 percent; and Travel Channel, Bravo and Hallmark all advanced 33 percent from 2001.

On the flip side, 2001 proved disappointing to general-entertainment services. While TBS Superstation and USA Network averaged a 1.7 rating — good for a second-place tie — both networks declined significantly: TBS was off 11 percent and USA down 19 percent, through Dec. 16.

Turner Network Television's conversion to a "drama" channel only helped it equal last year's 1.6 rating. FX, with a 0.7 rating, also remained flat from last year.

Cartoon Network, down 6 percent, was tied for second with TBS and USA. Nickelodeon was next at a 1.6 (off 6 percent), tied with TNT.

Arts & Entertainment Network (down 14 percent), ESPN (down 20 percent) and Discovery (flat) each posted a 1.2 rating.

On the rise were TNN: The National Network, riding the World Wrestling Federation's rocket to a 25 percent surge and landing at 1.0. That was good for a 10th-place tie with Cable News Network (up 25 percent) and Fox News Channel (up 43 percent).

The general-entertainment networks can take solace in year-to-date domination of the advertiser-coveted adult demographics. TBS Superstation claims the top spot in primetime among adults ages 25 to 54 (1.03 million viewers), adults 18 to 34 (481,000), and adults 18 to 49 (1.03 million), according to Turner's Nielsen analysis.

Sister station TNT projects to finish second in each of those categories.

Perennial 24-hour kingpin Nickelodeon is expected to again finish on top of the total-day rankings, with a 1.4 rating. It will beat out second-place Lifetime's 1.2 rating, according to Nielsen.

Cartoon Network (1.1); TBS Superstation (1.0); TNT (0.9); USA and A&E (0.8); and Discovery, CNN, ESPN, and Fox News (0.6) round out the top 10.

TNT's Jan. 21 airing of the original film Crossfire Trail, a Western starring Tom Selleck, was the top-rated show for the year with a 9.6 household rating. But CNN's coverage of "America's War on Terrorism" dominated the ratings chart, representing seven of the 12 highest-rated shows.

Three ESPN NFL Sunday Night Football
games finished in the top 10, while MTV's Sept. 6 2001 MTV Music Awards
telecast (8.6) finished as the fourth-highest rated show of the year through Dec. 16.

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.