Football Gives ESPN Nov. Ratings Win

Thanks to a strong lineup of Monday Night Football match-ups, ESPN nailed down its third straight monthly ratings race, beating all comers among total viewers and the three major TV demos.

Per Nielsen ratings data for the period spanning Oct. 26-Nov. 29, ESPN averaged 3.26 million prime time viewers, a 4 percent improvement from the year-ago period. The sports net also saw a lift among adults 25-54, drawing 1.63 million on the month, an increase of 6 percent.

In November, ESPN drew 1.61 million adults 18-49 and 767,000 viewers 18-34, both of which marked a 5 percent increase from the same time last year.

With Monday Night Football firing on all cylinders, ESPN notched the five most-watched programs on basic cable. On the month, ESPN saw its biggest delivery (16 million viewers) with the Nov. 9 MNF showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos. Three other games served up in excess of 12 million fans.

(Too late to be counted among November’s deliveries was the most recent installment of MNF, the Nov. 30 Saints-Patriots blowout that drew a national TV audience of 21.4 million viewers. ESPN’s 13th Monday Night Football telecast of the 2009-10 NFL season now ranks as the second most-watched program in cable history, behind the Oct. 5  Vikings-Packers throw down, which drew a record 21.8 million viewers.)

After dropping to third place in October, USA Network jumped a notch, averaging 3.22 million total viewers, a 13 percent improvement from last November’s 2.86 million. Although the network saw declines in the demos, USA took second among adults 25-54, drawing 1.39 million (down 3 percent), and viewers 18-49 (1.3 million, down 9 percent from its year-ago 1.43 million).

USA took a double-digit dip among viewers 18-34, falling 13 percent on the month to 584,000. The network tied TBS for second among the younger set.

Of the top 20 most-watched programs on basic cable, USA accounted for five. The net put together its best performance on Friday, Oct. 30, as the new original series White Collar drew 6.27 million viewers in its 10 p.m. time slot, per live-plus-seven-day data. That marked a 24 percent lift from the previously reported live-plus-same-day delivery of 5.08 million viewers.

Also drawing a crowd was the USA drama Monk, which is wrapping Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. after an eight-season run. Part one of the two-part finale drew 5.82 million viewers, of which 2.4 million were members of the 25-54 demo.

Fox News Channel moved back into third place, drawing a nightly crowd of 2.21 million viewers, of which 585,000 were adults 25-54. While FNC saw some slippage, falling 14 percent in total viewers and among the core news demo, its year-ago numbers reflected the huge lift it enjoyed during Election Day 2008 and its immediate aftermath.

Fourth place went to TNT and its nightly draw of 1.86 million viewers, which was down 5 percent from the year-ago 1.96 million. The Turner net posted its best demo delivery among the 25-54 crowd, averaging a third-place 903,000 (down 6 percent). Moreover, TNT finished fourth among viewers 18-49, dropping 5 percent to 873,000.

TNT squeezed by sibling TBS, which averaged 1.83 million viewers, up 1 percent versus a year ago. TBS notched its strongest demo delivery with the core TV target, drawing a third-place 1.05 million viewers 18-49. The network placed forth among adults 25-54, averaging 897,000. Both demos slipped by 1 percent.

Rounding out the month’s top 10 were: Nick at Nite, which grew 9 percent in prime with an average draw of 1.82 million viewers; A&E, up 11 percent with 1.49 million viewers; Cartoon Network, which fell 5 percent to 1.39 million; FX, up 4 percent with 1.38 million viewers and Syfy, up 2 percent (1.35 million).

Per Nielsen, 12 of ad-supported cable’s top 40 networks notched double-digit ratings gains in November, while a dozen nets suffered declines of 10 percent or more. All told, the top 40 nets accounted for an aggregate 1.5 percent decline in nightly deliveries.

While the top 10 was relatively stable, with only USA and A&E growing by 10 percent or more, it was a mixed bag for cable nets that ranked between No. 11 and No. 40 in prime. The biggest gainer of the month was WGN America, which was up 37 percent in total viewers, averaging 426,000.

Also making great strides in November was Food Network, which boosted its prime time deliveries by 25 percent to 1.18 million viewers.

On a percentile basis, other gainers were: National Geographic Channel (up 24 percent to 534,000); BET (up 23 percent to 825,000); ESPN2 (up 21 percent to 1.07 million); Oxygen (up 17 percent to 402,000); HGTV (up 15 percent to 1.19 million); Bravo (up 14 percent to 803,000); Lifetime Movie Network (up 14 percent to 672,000); TLC (up 10 percent to 1.16 million) and Travel Channel, which saw its nightly deliveries increase 10 percent to 487,000.

Not surprisingly, the nets that lost the most ground in the quarter were the news outlets. CNN fell 60 percent in prime, with 679,000 viewers, while MSNBC dropped 53 percent to 711,000 viewers. (Of course, the two nets were significantly impacted by comparisons to last November’s political cycle.)

A number of basic-entertainment nets also took a hit in November. Hallmark Channel continued to struggle to find an audience, dropping 33 percent to 993,000 viewers, while Lifetime fell 27 percent to 983,000 viewers. Four Viacom nets suffered ratings setbacks, as Comedy Central fell 23 percent to 1.01 million viewers, while sibling VH1 dropped 19 percent to 634,000. TV Land lost 14 percent of its nightly audience, averaging 675,000 viewers, while MTV fell 12 percent to 668,000.

Also reporting double-digit drops were: Headline News, down 17 percent to 501,000 viewers; AMC, down 13 percent to 1 million and Discovery Channel, down 12 percent to 1.13 million.

Tops among the core TV demo were: ESPN, which drew 1.61 million viewers 18-49, up 5 percent; USA (1.3 million, down 9 percent); TBS, down 1 percent with 1.05 million; TNT (873,000, down 5 percent); FX (829,000, up 7 percent); Syfy (663,000, up 5 percent); A&E (661,000, up 4 percent); Spike TV (631,000, up 11 percent versus a year ago);  Discovery Channel (611,000, down 11 percent) and TLC (603,000, up 6 percent).  

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel jumped back into third place among all basic cable nets, averaging 2.49 million viewers in prime, up 7 percent versus the prior-year period, when it drew 2.34 million viewers. The Mouse maintained its hold on the core kiddie demos, averaging 1.02 million viewers 6-11 (up 6 percent) and 844,000 ‘tweens 9-14 (up 6 percent).

Disney’s most significant programming highlight of the month occurred on Friday, Nov. 13, as a new episode of The Suite Life on Deck drew 4.78 million viewers in its 8 p.m. time slot.