Hoops Helps TNT to a Q2 Ratings Triumph

Turner network holds off USA with key audiences

A record turnout for its coverage of the NBA Playoffs secured a big second-quarter ratings win for TNT, which held off rival USA Network across all the top TV demos.

According to Nielsen data for the three-month period ended June 26, TNT averaged 1.35 million adults 18-49 in prime time, an increase of 12 percent over its Q2 ‘10 delivery. The Turner network also walked away with the 25-54 crown, averaging 1.33 million viewers, up 8 percent from the prior-year period.

The NBA helped TNT secure a decisive win among the 18-34 set, as the network averaged 691,000 in the quarter, a gain of 18 percent.

That said, USA managed to hold onto its title as the most-watched cable network, posting an average delivery of 3.01 million viewers in Q2, a decline of 8 percent. While it managed to boost its overall deliveries 10 percent from a year-ago 2.47 million, TNT fell short of USA’s mark by some 290,000 viewers.

USA has won nearly every quarterly ratings battle going back to 2006. (Thanks to its Monday Night Football juggernaut and extensive college football coverage, ESPN has run away with the Q4 title each of the last five years.)

For the quarter, TNT posted its best program delivery with Game 1 of the Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Finals, which drew 11.1 million viewers and 6.07 million adults 18-49 on May 15. The five-game series averaged 10.5 million viewers and 5.87 million adults 18-49.

All 40 NBA Playoff games helped boost TNT’s quarterly deliveries. The network’s coverage averaged a record 5.53 million viewers (up 20 percent from the 2010 campaign) and 3.17 million adults 18-49 (up 33 percent).

USA’s biggest draw of the quarter came courtesy of the Season 2 premiere of its spy series Covert Affairs. Using live-plus-seven-day ratings data, the Piper Perabo vehicle averaged 6.81 million viewers, marking a 50 percent increase from the original live-plus-same-day delivery (4.56 million).

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel took third among total viewers, averaging 2.55 million in prime, an increase of 5 percent year-over-year. The Mouse also posted an 11 percent gain with ‘tweens 9-14 and kids 6-11.

History enjoyed the greatest ratings growth of the quarter, building its audience 33 percent with an average nightly draw of 2.18 million viewers. The network finished third among the two core demos, averaging 1.09 million adults 25-54 (up 34 percent) and 1 million viewers 18-49 (up 35 percent).

Of the top 100 programs that aired on basic cable in Q2, History hosted more than a quarter (26). Pawn Stars accounted for eight of the top 20 shows.

Among the core TV demo, the top 10 included the aforementioned TNT, USA, and History, as well as fourth-place ESPN (down 4 percent to 816,000 adults 18-49). TBS took fifth on the quarter, averaging 758,000 adults 18-49, down 18 percent versus the prior-year period, followed by: FX (up 16 percent to 717,000); Discovery Channel (down 2 percent to 689,000); A&E (up 3 percent to 660,000); Comedy Central (up 5 percent to 606,000); and ABC Family (up 7 percent to 603,000).

According to Nielsen ratings data for the three months ended June 28, 10 of ad-supported cable’s top 40 networks notched double-digit ratings gains in the second quarter, while a half-dozen suffered declines of 10 percent or more.

While the top 10 was relatively stable, with only TNT, History, and FX growing by 10 percent or more—FX’s nightly delivery of 1.35 million total viewers reflected a 16 percent increase versus the year-ago period—it was a mixed bag for cable nets that ranked between No. 11 and No. 40 in prime. The biggest gainer of the quarter was Investigation Discovery, which soared 70 percent to a network-record 523,000 viewers.

Also making great strides in Q2 were: AMC, which grew 26 percent with an average audience of 1.23 million viewers; MTV, which improved 25 percent to 945,000 viewers; and CNN, which jumped 15 percent to 685,000 viewers. For all that, CNN still lagged behind MSNBC among total viewers (798,000) and the 25-54 demo (221,000 to the competition’s 265,000).

Other gainers in Q2 were: Headline News (up 12 percent to 549,000); Nick Jr. (up 11 percent to 846,000); and Versus (up 11 percent to 567,000, on the strength of its NHL Playoffs coverage.

The six ad-supported nets that lost the most ground in the quarter were: Nick at Nite, which fell 19 percent with 1.41 million viewers; TBS, down 19 percent (1.3 million); Hallmark Channel, which dropped 19 percent to 595,000 viewers; Lifetime Movie Network (down 17 percent to 528,000); ESPN2 (down 17 percent to 472,000); and Oxygen (down 11 percent to 387,000).

Of the top 50 programs on basic cable in the quarter, a mere six were scripted efforts, and all but one of these programs was targeted to kids. History’s lineup of unscripted favorites like Pawn Stars and American Pickers accounted for the lion’s share of the most popular programs on cable, followed by the NBA Playoffs and that indefinable hybrid of sports and scripted drama (WWE Raw).

Two Viacom-produced awards show (Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards and BET’s annual self-titled gala) landed in the upper reaches in Q2, as did a pair of breaking news programs. President Obama addressed the nation on Sunday, May 1, informing viewers that SEAL Team 6 had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan; CNN’s coverage of the brief speech delivered 10.1 million viewers.

The news network’s half-hour lead-in to the president’s address drew 7.46 million viewers.