February Cable Ratings a Mix of Ups and Downs

Ad-supported cable ratings were a mixed bag in February, as exactly half of the top 30 networks boosted their prime-time deliveries versus the comparable period a year ago.

According to Nielsen ratings data for Jan. 26-Feb. 22, 15 of the leading ad-supported cable channels were up in prime, with nine of those showing double-digit percentage increases among total viewers. At the same time, five of the remaining nets declined by 10 percent or more.

USA Network ran the table in prime, winning among total viewers and all three major demos. The net served up 3.41 million viewers on the month, an increase of 13 percent, while lifting its delivery of adults 25-54 by 20 percent, to 1.61 million viewers. USA also showed significant gains among viewers 18-49, growing 16 percent (1.52 million), while continuing to enjoy its new-found dominance among 18-34s (676,000, up 13 percent).

For the month, USA boasted five of the top 10 programs on ad-supported cable, drawing its best numbers with new episodes of Burn Notice and Monk. The Jan. 29 installment of Burn Notice drew 6.8 million viewers in the 10 p.m. slot, edging the following week’s episode by just 100,000. Meanwhile, the Jan. 30 Monk was seen by 6.45 million viewers, besting the Feb. 2 episode by a mere 49,000 viewers.

TNT held fast in second place with an average nightly delivery of 2.49 million, on the way to taking the silver among 25-54s (1.25 million) and 18-49s (1.18 million). The Turner net grew its prime-time audience by 9 percent versus February 2008, while lifting its profile among 25-54s by 16 percent.

The drama flagship saw a 10 percent increase in its delivery of 18-49s, and grew its younger demo by 10 percent with a third-place 528,000 viewers 18-34.

TNT nailed down five of the top 10 programs on cable, including the month’s top draw, the NBA All-Star Game. The Feb. 15 pro-hoops exhibition scared up 7.62 million viewers, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data. Also driving ratings at TNT was cable’s top-rated original series, The Closer, which lured 7.29 million viewers Jan. 26 at 9 p.m. and 6.4 million viewers Feb. 2.

Fox News Channel remained clamped down on third place in prime, averaging 2.41 million viewers, an increase of 29 percent year-over-year. In the opening weeks of the Barack Obama administration, FNC boosted its core demo by 21 percent, averaging 551,000 adults 25-54. (By comparison, rival CNN showed a sharp decline versus the year-ago period, falling 31 percent in prime with 1.16 million viewers, while third-place MSNBC was up 23 percent, averaging 951,000. The demo race was even closer: CNN, which dropped 44 percent to 345,000 25-54s, squeaked past MSNBC by a margin of around 7,000 viewers.)

Fourth place on the month went to TBS (1.81 million viewers, down 3 percent). The Turner net put together its best demo delivery with adults 18-49, averaging 1.08 million, a dip of 4 percent.)

Nickelodeon/Nick-at-Nite climbed into fifth place, averaging 1.59 million viewers (-4 percent), while Cartoon Network/Adult Swim soared 27 percent with 1.54 million viewers. Rounding out the rest of the top 10 were: A&E, up 1 percent to 1.49 million viewers; ESPN, down 2 percent to 1.37 million viewers; FX, off 11 percent (1.35 million) and ABC Family, up 20 percent to just under 1.35 million.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel finished fourth among all basic cable nets, serving up 2.26 million total viewers.

In addition to the aforementioned nets, February’s biggest winners were: Headline News, up 56 percent to 671,000 viewers; Food Network, up 16 percent to 1.03 million viewers; BET, up 15 percent to 716,000 and TV Land, which rebounded by 10 percent to 883,000.