Top 25 Television Networks

TV economics

A Millionaire and a Survivor couldn't keep NBC completely down. Though it has dipped in the ratings, NBC heads Broadcasting & Cable's ranking of the Top 25 TV networks for the year, even as its schedule is being outpaced by rivals ABC and CBS. Both NBC and No. 2 ABC get their rankings with substantial gains in revenues, while CBS' growth will be relatively low.

How could that be, given the gigantic surge from CBS' Survivor? The answer lies in the interesting structure of network economics. CBS pre-sold Survivor when neither network nor advertiser expectations were very high. So, while the show's ratings impact was huge, the revenue impact was not. Also, summer is a slow season for ad spending, and much of the network's inventory was tied up in the upfront market at relatively low prices.

ABC by comparison had its surge from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? a year ago, bolstering scatter prices all year and getting favorable attention in the upfront market last spring. And NBC's slide didn't really hurt until the fall.

Of course, broadcasters aren't the only big TV players. The survey treats every network the same: broadcast, basic cable, pay cable or home shopping. The sole criterion was revenue, however generated.

Operating with just a fraction of the ratings and programming costs of their major broadcast rivals, cable networks are still tallying hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.
This ranking is based on estimates of 2000 revenues. Although compiled in late November, it has room for variance. (Figures for the most recent fiscal year were used for Walt Disney Co. and News Corp.-related units.) Also, many network groups don't publicly detail revenues of individual channels, so securities filings offer limited information.

At many networks, executives either offered their own figures or said they "were comfortable" with the ones we provided. Many of the rest were based on information from Wall Street analysts including Bear, Stearns & Co.'s Victor Miller and Ray Katz; Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's Richard Bilotti; and Sanford Bernstein & Co.'s Tom Wolzien. Others were based on information from media-research specialist Paul Kagan Associates or derived by Broadcasting & Cable. Household-viewing information is based on year-to-date Nielsen averages.

To maintain the confidentiality of those networks that cooperated, the list does not specify the source of any particular number.

Top 25 Television Networks

*Estimated 2000 revenue in millions

Source: Broadcasting & Cable