Year-End Ratings Show Cable Nabbed 55% of TV Viewing

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NEW YORK ( -- The good news for TV networks is that TV viewing is up about 10% from five years ago. Better news for cable networks is that they’ve reaped most of that increase in viewing.

According to Turner analysis of Nielsen Media Research, while 55% of TV viewing is to cable networks, the cable industry only nabbed 31% of total prime-time advertising dollars -- a sticking point for many in the cable industry.

But among the cable landscape, there are also clear winners and losers. This year was no different, as Turner’s TNT won the crown for viewers 18 to 49, averaging almost 1.2 million in prime time. The network was fueled by a pair of drama series that both ranked in the top three new original cable series for the year for viewers 18 to 49. “The Closer,” starring Kyra Sedgewick,” and “Wanted” with Gary Cole both averaged more than 1.5 million viewers in the demo.

In the past two months, however, NBC Universal’s USA network has given it a formidable challenge for the title, largely due to the return of Monday night WWE “Raw” telecasts, which regularly rank among the highest-rated and most-watched cable entertainment programs. TBS, ESPN and Lifetime ranked third through fifth in viewers 18 to 49.

"Adult Swim," the late-night programming block on Cartoon Network, had a banner year, although it wasn’t rated for the full year of 2004. In a year-end ratings presentation two weeks ago, Turner Broadcasting research chief Jack Wakshlag had some fun illustrating its delivery of adults 18-to-34, as he compared "Adult Swim" and late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart. All, he noted, were out-delivered by "Adult Swim."

In the kids' category, Nickelodeon managed to increase its already-formidable lead position. It finished the year in first place for kids 2-11 with 1.2 million viewers, ahead of Cartoon Network’s 774,000 and Diseny’s 747,000. The network was encouraged by an 8% increase in tween viewing as well. It scored 523,000 tweens, ages 9 to 14, and its “Zoey 101” was the third-highest-ranked tween program after Fox’s “American Idol” and CBS’s “Survivor: Palau.”

A&E’s new programming look aged down the network dramatically. It was up 12% in 18-to-49s and 28% in 18-to-34s. Rainbow’s AMC, meanwhile, notched 16% and 17% gains in 18-to-49s and 18-to-34s, respectively.

Hallmark Channel grew 24% in 18-to-49s. FX was up 5% in the demo and Food Network up 12%. Among music networks, BET increased its 18-to-34 demo 15%, CMT increased 24% and VH1, despite its maturity, was up 15% in 18-to-49s and 18% in 18-to-34. Spike was up 23% in 18-to-49s, but could run into trouble in 2006 without the return of its top-rated program, WWE “Raw.”

Remaining within a few percentage points of their 2004 performances were Lifetime, Comedy Central, TBS, HGTV and History Channel.

Discovery fell 12% in 18-to-49s and, despite ESPN’s insistence that the absence of hockey didn’t hurt, it’s 2005 18-to49 ratings dropped 11%. TLC tried to shore up its losses and ended the year down about 25% in all demos.

Several smaller cablers ended the year with significant gains: MTV2 will be up 48% in 18-to-34 and National Geographic will be up about 60% in 18-to-49s and 25-to-54s. Comcast’s OLN was up about 26% and Discovery Health was up 30% in18-to-49s.

Among the news channels’ 25-to-54 sales demo, CNBC was down 7%, CNN and MSNBC both up 7% and Fox News down 12%. While CNN Headline News had the most growth at 52%, Fox News remained the leader for number of 25-to-54 viewers, by an almost 80% margin.

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