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Ratings Hosannas for 'Montana’

Are halcyon ratings days returning for Hannah Montana?

A fresh installment of the Disney Channel show drew the most viewers in about 10 months, continuing a positive trend after the controversy following series star Miley Cyrus’s semi-nude pictures, which appeared in Vanity Fair this spring.

The Aug. 3 episode, titled “Yet Another Side of Me,” attracted 4.6 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data, the most since the Oct. 19, 2007 episode garnered 5.4 million.

The episode, cable’s fifth most-watched scripted show for the week of July 28 through Aug. 3, stood as TV’s top telecast for the week among kids 6 to 11 (2 million) and tweens 9 to 14 (1.8 million). Moreover, the performance pushed Hannah Montana to the top of the charts among girls 6 to 14 and boys 6 to 14 for the first time since July 21, 2007, according to Disney Channel officials. Factoring in its 17 plays of various episodes for the week, Hannah Montana ranked first in TV among kids 6 to 11.

Through its first 26 episodes, the second season of Hannah Montana (which began April 23, 2007) outstripped the 26-episode first-season averages by 16% among total viewers (4.3 million to 3.7 million), 6% among kids 6 to 11 (1.8 million to 1.7 million) and 13% among tweens (1.8 million to 1.6 million), said Disney Channel officials.

The show continued an upward tick: Fresh episodes on July 6 and July 20 pulled in 3.6 million and 3.8 million total viewers, respectively. Those deliveries compared to the 3.1 million that tuned in on May 4, when Disney Channel aired “The Way We Almost Weren’t,” the first fresh installment after the Vanity Fair flap.

Asked whether the whirlwind that surrounded the VF affair had hurt the tween cynosure, Disney senior vice president of kids communications Patti McTeague replied: “Among Hannah Montana’s core audience of kids and parents, the indications are to the contrary,” she said. “Miley said she made a mistake and apologized to her fans. She said she appreciated them for standing by her.”

McTeague not only referenced the series’ performance, but pointed to the strong reception by the 13,000 who listened to Cyrus perform July 18 in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, part of the Good Morning America concert series, which came in support of “Breakout.” The album, Cyrus’s first away from Hannah, was No. 1 on the Billboard charts, following its July 22 release.

Moreover, the debut of Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert in 3D, pulled in 5.9 million viewers on July 26, the most in all of TV that Saturday. The theatrical, which drew some $65 million at the box office during a limited run early this year, more than doubled the viewership of Disney Channel’s previously most-watched concert, featuring The Cheetah Girls, on Sept. 22, 2006.

Hannah/Cyrus fans will be happy to know that more is on the way. A quartet of second-season episodes remain in the can, and are scheduled to air on Aug. 31, Sept. 14, Oct. 12 and Nov. 2.

Production commenced on a 24-installment third season last week, with the first batch of installments expected to premiere before year-end.

The storylines for some of the third-season installments will dovetail into Hannah Montana: The Movie, which is expected to debut in spring 2009. The film, from Walt Disney Pictures, is in post production.

Beyond that, things are less clear. In published reports, Cyrus has indicated she wants to move past the character and the series. However, Disney Channel holds an option for a fourth season.

“We’re optimistic that there will be another [fourth] cycle and that we will be in business for a long time based on the success of the Hannah Montana franchise,” said McTeague.