ESPN Notches Third-Straight Ratings Win

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 Championship 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 wildcard; 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).

Disney again cruised past the competition in the key kiddie demos, winning out among children 2-11 (1.72 million), kids 6-11 (1.33 million) and ‘tweens 9-14 (1.04 million).  

USA Network took second place among ad-supported nets, averaging 2.72 million total viewers, posting its strongest demo numbers by way of adults 25-54. With an average draw of 1.09 million, USA last week took second place among members of its target demo.

FX surged 10 spots to finish the week ranked third among ad-supported nets, drawing 2.07 million viewers. The network claimed second among viewers 18-49 (1.11 million), third among 25-54s (1.05 million) and fourth with the 18-34 demo (538,000).

The cable debut of Iron Man pushed FX a few rungs up the ladder. On Tuesday, the Robert Downey, Jr., superhero flick drew 3.65 million viewers, more than half of which (1.97 million) were viewers 18-49. In the course of that same screening, adults 25-54 numbered 1.81 million.

The syndicated comedy Two and a Half Men has also been a reliable draw for FX. Thursday at 9 p.m., the Charlie Sheen sitcom scared up 2.25 million viewers, slightly better than Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. delivery (2.22 million). Eleven episodes of Men averaged in excess of 1.5 million viewers, or about what newbie original drama Lights Out served up (1.49 million) in its Jan. 11 premiere. Over the course of the series opener and four subsequent repeat showings, Lights Out delivered a cumulative 3.68 million viewers.  

TNT took fourth place last week, averaging 2.06 million viewers, while Fox News Channel rounded out the top five with 1.96 million.

The Viacom networks enjoyed a surge of renewed interest, as the season 2.5 premiere of fist-pumping phenom Jersey Shore creeped up on 8.56 million total viewers, a tally that included 5.72 million 18-49s, 4.63 million 18-34s and 3.18 million adults 25-54. Meanwhile, BET also put together a huge night on Tuesday, bowing new series The Game to a record 7.68 million viewers/3.17 million adults 18-34. At 11 p.m., lead-out Let’s Stay Together retained 57 percent of The Game’s audience, averaging 4.39 million viewers.

Other big premieres were: Beyond Scared Straight on A&E (3.68 million viewers) and Discovery Channel’s Flying Wild Alaska (2.58 million). Lead-out Gold Rush: Alaska improved on FWA’s opening deliveries by nearly 1 million viewers, drawing 3.54 million in the Friday 11 p.m. slot.