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NBA Playoffs Put Some Bounce In May Cable C3 Ratings

LeBron James may not have been able to stop the Golden State Warriors, but he and his National Basketball Association colleagues were able to slow down the decline in cable ratings during May.

According to an analysis by Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research, C3 commercial ratings among adults 18-49, a key metric for buying and selling advertising, was down 6% in May for national television.

C3 cable ratings were down only 5% from a year ago. That was an improvement from a 9% drop in April and put cable’s ratings at their highest level since last August, according to Nathanson, who said the higher viewership for this year’s NBA playoffs were largely responsible for cable’s better showing.

With the end of the season, broadcast primetime ratings were down 9% for May.

Among the broadcast networks, Fox was down the least, off 6%. NBC was down the most, dropping 12%.

Because of the NBA playoffs on ESPN, Disney was the only major cable network group to increase primetime viewership in May, pumping up a 38% gain from a year ago. Time Warner, which also carries the NBA on its TNT network, was down just 3%.

Also showing single digit declines were Viacom and NBCUniversal. A+E Networks was down 17%, the biggest decline among the cable network companies. Discovery and Fox were both down 13%.

Among the top 25 cable networks in total day viewership, only two showed increases: ESPN and BET. The biggest declines were registered by Viacom’s Nick at Nite and Nickelodeon, Fox’s FX, Time Warner’s Cartoon Network and NBCU’s USA.

Nathanson said the ratings declines overall were driven by drops in people using TV (PUT) trends among younger views. PUT levels among 18 to 24 year olds were down 10% and 12-17 year olds were down 16%.

All three of the major cable news networks were down in total day C3 ratings for the first time since 2015.

“Given the challenged ratings trends we have seen, we remain cautious on the TV advertising market’s ability to grow dollars by offsetting these declines with higher CPM inflation although we will be learning more through the coming weeks as this year’s upfront unfolds,” Nathanson said.