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USA to Win 2006 Nielsen Crown

Boosted by wrestling, USA Network this year will win the crown as cable’s No. 1-rated network in primetime ratings, total viewers and several key demographics, according to officials.

“This will be their first year doing that in awhile,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System.

USA is enjoying a banner year, not only in overall viewers but in primetime audiences 18-to-34, 18-to-49 and 25-to-54.

Disney Channel boasted Wednesday that it will rank No. 2 this year in total primetime viewers for basic cable, behind USA but ahead of third-place Turner Network Television.

During his year-end rating press conference Wednesday, Wakshlag also reported that for the first November sweeps ever, cable beat the six broadcast networks in terms of primetime share of adults 18-to-49. Cable racked up a 42.5 share in that demographic, while broadcast came in at a 39.7, for the November sweep.

And for the fifth consecutive year, cable is pacing to beat the six broadcast networks in household share in primetime. For 2006 to date, cable has a 55.4 share, versus 40.4 for the six broadcast networks. For the full year, Wakshlag projected that cable will wind up with a 55.5 share, compared with broadcast’s 40.3.

As cable increases its share of viewing, its ad revenue has increased, although it is still disproportionate to cable’s piece of the audience, according to Wakshlag.

This year to date, the broadcast networks had 69% of primetime ad dollars, or $10.72 billion, while cable had 31%, or $4.77 billion. Yet broadcast only has a 40% share of the primetime audience, while cable has 55%.

This year, for the second consecutive year, TNT will rank No. 1 in adults 18-to-49 and 25-to-54 for total-day delivery among ad-supported cable networks.