TNT's NBA fizzle puts USA on top

'Raw,' 'Starter Wife,' 'Burn Notice' boost net

By John Dempsey

Variety Online - 7/3/07

LeBron James and his fellow NBA athletes didn't quite deliver for TNT in the second quarter, as USA Network elbowed out its main network rival in total viewers for the first time in five years.

Since 2003, TNT has become accustomed to finishing No. 1 in primetime among ad-supported cable networks during the second quarter, mostly on the strength of the NBA playoffs. But the NBA's ratings have softened, and USA took advantage, drawing on the strength of its weekly two-hour wrestling series "Raw," the six-hour limited series "The Starter Wife," the premiere of the scripted "Burn Notice" action show and theatricals such as "National Treasure" and "Sweet Home Alabama."

TNT finished a strong second to USA, not only in total primetime viewers but in the three key demos (adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54).

And cable TV as a category continued to draw viewers away from the broadcast networks. Tim Brooks, executive veep of research for Lifetime, said that while cable edged up by 1% in share of audience for the second quarter, to a 57.2, the broadcasters dipped by 7%, to a 36.4 share.

TNT's sibling network TBS finished in third place in the three adult demos for the second quarter, falling behind the commercial-free Disney Channel only in total viewers. Among the top-10-rated networks, A&E engineered the biggest gains in total viewers and in the three adult demos. A&E harvested viewers by the silo, climbing by 35% on the strength of reruns of "CSI: Miami" and "The Sopranos" and reality series like "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and "Gene Simmons: Family Jewels."

In addition to A&E, the other ad-supported networks that soared by double digits in primetime viewers during the second quarter (in order of their overall finish) included: Discovery Network (up 15%), Sci Fi Channel (up 22%), Court TV (up 32%), TLC (up 17%), VH1 (up 27%), BET (up 14%), Bravo (up 24%), MSNBC (up 39%) and E! Entertainment TV (up 12%).

The following networks plunged by double digits in total primetime viewers during the second quarter: ESPN (down 12%), Cartoon Network (down 14%), Nick at Nite (down 16%), Comedy Central (down 10%), AMC (down 11%), MTV (down 15%) and TV Land (down 11%). Also falling were the Weather Channel (down 14%), TV Guide Channel (down 10%), GSN (down 23%), Discovery Health (down 13%), Biography Channel (down 14%) and ESPN Classic (down 15%).