ESPN Rushes to Ratings Win with Saints, Pats

ESPN last week powered its way to another prime-time cable ratings win, averaging a brawny 4.73 million total viewers while nailing down the three major TV demos.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data for the week ended Dec. 6, Bristol ran the table among the demos, drawing 2.32 million adults 25-54, 2.32 million viewers 18-49 and 1.15 million viewers 18-34.

A stellar Monday Night Football match-up between the Saints and Patriots did much of the heavy lifting for ESPN, as the Nov. 30 contest served up 21.4 million viewers, making it the second most-watched basic-cable telecast of all time. New Orleans’ 38-17 romp now trails only the Oct. 5 edition of MNF, a Vikings-Packers shootout that drew a record-toppling 21.8 million total viewers.

As one might expect, MNF also put up huge demo numbers, delivering 11.2 million adults 25-54 and viewers 18-49, and 5.39 million viewers 18-34.

Leading out of the Saints-Pats telecast, ESPN’s 93-minute SportsCenter drew 5.67 million viewers, of which 3.37 million were members of the 18-49 demo. The sports net also drew a crowd with its presentation of the Dec. 3 Civil War battle between Oregon and Oregon State, which averaged 5.73 million viewers Thursday night.

USA Network took second place in prime, averaging 3.34 million total viewers, 1.4 million adults 25-54, 1.37 million viewers 18-49 and 623,000 viewers 18-34. The network broke the record for the most-watched episode of an original cable series as the Dec. 4 finale of Monk scared up 9.45 million viewers in its Friday 9 p.m. time slot.

Episode No. 125, “Mr. Monk and the End (Pt. 2),” drew 3.74 million adults 25-54 and 3.2 million viewers 18-49, easily topping everything else on television on the night.

Monk lead-out White Collar drew 5.55 million viewers. The series, which has averaged 4.73 million viewers over the course of seven episodes, goes on hiatus until Jan. 19, 2010, when it returns in its new time slot (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.)

ABC Family surged into third place, averaging 2.28 million total viewers. The network last week kicked off its annual 25 Days of Christmas stunt, drawing 1.08 million viewers 18-49, 974,000 adults 25-54 and 542,000 18-34s, all of which were good for a fourth-place finish.

Fox News Channel moved down a spot to fourth place, serving up 2.27 million total viewers, while tying Food Network for 13th among adults 25-54 with an average nightly draw of 575,000.

FNC accounted for three of the week’s most-watched programming segments on ad-supported cable, drawing 5.22 million viewers with its seven-minute analysis of President Barack Obama’s Dec. 1 address on Afghanistan, a 15 percent improvement over the net’s coverage of the actual speech (4.55 million). Leading out of the post-speech segment, a special live installment of The O’Reilly Factor averaged 4.48 million viewers between 8:43 p.m. and 9:49 p.m.

Fox News’ coverage of the Obama address far outpaced its rivals, beating the combined deliveries of CNN (2.35 million viewers) and MSNBC (1.55 million).

In what would prove to be its most-watched week in its 15-year history, FX took fifth place on the week, drawing 2.14 million viewers, while commanding third among viewers 18-49 (1.15 million). FX also finished third among adults 25-54 (1.1 million), while tying ABC Family for fourth with 542,000 18-34s.

The season finale of FX’ Sons of Anarchy was the most-watched entertainment program for the week among men 18-49 (1.92 million viewers), men 25-54 (1.71 million) and adults 18-34 (1.57 million). It also finished second among scripted cable series for the week among its target demo, averaging 2.99 million viewers 18-49.

Last week’s top 10 ad-supported cable nets among the core TV demo were: ESPN, averaging 2.32 million viewers 18-49; USA (1.37 million); FX (1.15 million); ABC Family (1.08 million); TBS (962,000); A&E (896,000); TNT (867,000); Spike TV (836,000); AMC (675,000) and Syfy (638,000).