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MBPT Spotlight: Most Ad-Supported Cable Networks Struggled With First-Month’s Primetime C3 18-49 Ratings

ESPN led all cable networks in the first month of the new primetime television season, surpassing last season’s leader at the same point, TBS, in 18-49 C3 ratings, based on Nielsen data.

The first month of the season, running from Sept. 22 through Oct. 19, ESPN has averaged a 1.09 C3 rating in the demo, up 6% from last season’s 1.03, while TBS has averaged a 0.78, down 26% from its 1.05 last season.

“It was bound to happen eventually,” says Billie Gold, VP, director of TV programming research at Carat. “Ratings for TBS’ ubiquitous reruns of The Big Bang Theory are down almost 20% vs. last year. That, combined with fewer postseason baseball games led TBS to drop from the No. 1 ratings position they were in during the first month last year.”

AMC, third after the first month last season in 18-49 C3 ratings with a 0.65, fell to sixth this year with a 0.48, a decline of 26%. As Gold puts it, “Although AMC is getting record ratings for The Walking Dead, its other hit from last year, Breaking Bad is gone, and the network’s movies are getting lower ratings than last year.”

Rounding out the Top 10 among the cable networks in 18-49 C3 ratings for the first month of the primetime season are FX (0.56), down 2%; Adult Swim (0.53, down 12%); USA (0.53, down 7%); AMC (0.48, down 26%); ABC Family (0.38, up 9%); Comedy Central (0.35, down 15%); Discovery (0.33, up 10%); and Food Network (0.30, down 3%), Syfy, 0.30 (down 12%) and FS1 (0.30, up 200%).

Networks that dropped out of the first-month Top 10 include A&E, which was seventh last year with a 0.49, and this season is down to a 0.25, a decline of 49%; NFL Network, which was eighth last year with a 0.42 and this year is at 0.24, a drop of 43%; and History, tenth last year with a 0.37, and this year with a 0.29, down 22%. The NFL Network, of course, is down primarily because during the first four weeks of the primetime season, it was simulcasting its Thursday Night Football telecasts along with CBS, diluting its audience.

Among the Top 25 highest rated 18-49 cable networks in C3 for the first month of the primetime season, only seven recorded increases. The others not mentioned above include HGTV, up 4% to a 0.28, Cartoon Network, up 30% to a 0.26, and VH1, up 9% to a 0.24.

Overall, of 107 ad-supported cable networks, 26 showed 18-49 demo rating C3 increases and 19 were flat; the rest were down.

In a recent report, Carat reviewed some of the gains and declines:

• Most of Comedy Central’s original and acquired programming was down vs. last year, with notable declines for Tosh.O,Key and Peele and South Park.

• Fox Sports 1 saw its rating triple solely due to the new addition of postseason MLB games. Since baseball season ended, FS1 has dropped back below the top networks’ ratings radar.

• History (down 22%) relies heavily on original and repeat episodes of its one-time juggernaut Pawn Stars. Ratings for that show continue to collapse—down over 20% during the first month of the season. Two other reality series, American Pickers and Counting Cars are also experiencing sharp ratings declines.

• On Spike (down 16%) ratings for new and repeat episodes of the long-running series Cops are down 20%-25% and Ink Master is also running well below last year’s performance.

• Cartoon Network (up 30%) reduced its primetime schedule this year and gave sister network Adult Swim more hours. Its ratings increases are mostly a function of that cutback.

• A&E ratings are down sharply (by 49%) mainly due to no new episodes of Duck Dynasty during the same period this year vs. last year. Meanwhile, newly acquired returns of Criminal Minds are underperforming and drawing older audiences than the reality programming it replaced.

• Bravo (down 17%) was hampered by Real Housewives of New Jersey, which was down 20% during the first month vs. last year, and its movies are also down by more than 20%.

• MTV (down 23%) is still getting strong viewership for its series Teen Mom and Awkward, but ratings are down for both Ridiculousness and its movies.

• Nickelodeon was down (17%) mostly because last year’s hit Haunted Hathaways aired fewer episodes during the first month.

Among some other networks showing C3 18-49 demo rating increases for the first month of the season, with smaller base audiences, were: FXX (up 183% to 0.17); Hallmark (up 50% to 0.12); OWN (up 9% to 0.12); CNN (up 10% to 0.11); CNBC (up 125% to 0.20); BBC America (up 33% to 0.08); MTV2 (up 17% to 0.07); GSN (up 20% to 0.06); IFC (up 20% to 0.06); DIY (up 25% to 0.05); Velocity (up 25% to 0.05); and MLB Network (up 300% to 0.04).