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ESPN Notches Third Straight Ratings Win

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ESPN has notched its third straight ratings sweep of 2011, outperforming all comers in prime time among total viewers and the dollar demos.

Buoyed by its first-ever BCS national title game, ESPN in the week ended Jan. 16 averaged 4.63 million total viewers, of which 2.2 million were members of the 18-49 set and 2.12 million were representatives of the adults 25-54 demo.

Bristol also ran away with the younger crowd, averaging 1.14 million viewers 18-34 in prime.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, ESPN’s coverage of the Auburn-Oregon thriller drew 27.3 viewers on the night of Jan. 10, making it the most-watched program in the history of cable television.

The first title game to be broadcast on cable, the Tigers-Ducks thriller outdrew six of the last 10 championship broadcasts on Fox and ABC. It’s worth noting that 2004 was a bit of a wild card; that year, the title was shared by LSU and USC.

Compared to last year’s Alabama-Texas matchup on ABC, the 2011 BCS topper was down 11 percent in total viewers. ABC’s broadcast of the Jan. 7, 2010, game averaged 30.8 million total viewers; that said, the championship brawl showed a 2 percent lift when compared to the 2009 finale on Fox.

Pre- and post-game coverage also delivered the goods, as a 33-minute lead-in drew 14.4 million football fans, while a 14-minute cool-down averaged 12.3 million viewers.

All told, it was a solid week for the ABC/Disney cable family, as ESPN and Disney Channel accounted for eight of the most-watched programs on the week. The non-ad-supported Mouse finished second among all basic-cable nets, delivering a nightly audience of 3.07 million devotees on the week. Disney was lifted by its Sunday night lineup of Hannah Montana Forever (6.18 million viewers), Suite Life on Deck (7.11 million) and Good Luck Charlie (6.66 million).

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