ESPN Starts 2010 Off on Right Foot

ESPN started the 2010 ratings race at a full sprint, averaging a staggering 6.39 million total viewers in prime for the week ended Jan. 3.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, ESPN averaged 2.99 million adults 25-54, 2.65 million viewers 18-49 and 1.08 million viewers 18-34, in a week that saw the sports network play host to the final Monday Night Football telecast of the 2009-10 NFL season and six non-BCS bowl games.

In the final MNF contest of the decade, Jake Cutler and the Chicago Bears took Brett Favre’s Minnesota Vikings down a peg, beating their NFC North rivals in OT by a 36-30 margin. Some 17 million viewers tuned in for the game, of which more than half (8.89 million) were members of the 25-54 demo. The Bears-Vikes battle swept the three demos, drawing 8.02 million viewers 18-49 and 3.32 million viewers 18-34.

ESPN’s 17 MNF telecasts averaged 14.4 million viewers per game, an increase of 20 percent from the 2008 campaign.

College football also contributed to ESPN’s wild week, as the Jan. 2 Alamo Bowl (Michigan State-Texas Tech) drew 7.83 million viewers, of which 3.74 million were adults 25-54 and 3.31 million were part of the 18-49 crowd. Also putting up big numbers were: the Chick-fil-A Bowl (Virginia Tech-Tennessee), which drew 7.51 million viewers on New Year’s Eve; the Liberty Bowl (Arkansas-East Carolina), which averaged 6.45 million viewers leading into the Alamo Bowl; the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl (Miami-Wisconsin, 6.23 million viewers); the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl (Arizona-Nebraska, 6.14 million) and the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl (Northwestern-Auburn, 5.69 million).

All told, ESPN’s pigskin coverage accounted for the top seven most-watched programs on ad-supported cable last week.

USA Network took second place in total viewers (3.32 million) and the two key demos, serving up 1.46 million adults 25-54 and 1.26 million viewers 18-49. The net fell about 1,000 viewers shy of TBS among the 18-34 demo, drawing 515,000, good for third place on the week.

WWE Raw proved to be USA’s biggest attraction, scaring up 5.47 million viewers Monday, Dec. 28, between 9 p.m. and 11:08 p.m. The wrestling showcase averaged 2.53 million viewers 18-49 and 2.56 million adults 25-54.

With an average draw of 2.33 million viewers, TNT claimed third place. The Turner net also seized the bronze among the larger demos, averaging 1.15 million adults 25-54 and 1.04 million viewers 18-49, while finishing fourth with 421,000 18-34s.

Closing out the top five were A&E (1.84 million viewers) and Nick at Nite (1.61 million). A&E enjoyed a solid demo run, taking fourth among adults 25-54 (991,000) and fifth with 881,000 viewers 18-49 and 372,000 viewers 18-34.

On an individual program basis, football and the WWE dominated the top 10 among viewers 18-49, although one curio broke into the upper ranks. On Sunday night, a one-hour installment of E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians delivered 3.19 million members of the demo, good for a third-place finish behind MNF and the Alamo Bowl.  

Last week’s top 10 ad-supported cable nets among the core TV demo were: ESPN, averaging 2.65 million viewers 18-49; USA (1.26 million); TNT (1.04 million); TBS (958,000); A&E (881,000); FX (783,000); Food Network (708,000); truTV (676,000); ABC Family (647,000) and Discovery Channel (635,000).

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel secured third place among all basic-cable nets, averaging 2.66 million viewers. The Mouse gobbled up the youth demos, drawing 1.02 million kids 6-11, 1.34 million viewers 6-14 and 866,000 ‘tweens 9-14.

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