Football Gives ESPN Nov. Ratings Win

Thanks to a strong lineup of Monday Night Football match-ups, ESPN nailed down its third straight monthly ratings race, beating all comers among total viewers and the three major TV demos.

Per Nielsen ratings data for the period spanning Oct. 26-Nov. 29, ESPN averaged 3.26 million prime time viewers, a 4 percent improvement from the year-ago period. The sports net also saw a lift among adults 25-54, drawing 1.63 million on the month, an increase of 6 percent.

In November, ESPN drew 1.61 million adults 18-49 and 767,000 viewers 18-34, both of which marked a 5 percent increase from the same time last year.

With Monday Night Football firing on all cylinders, ESPN notched the five most-watched programs on basic cable. On the month, ESPN saw its biggest delivery (16 million viewers) with the Nov. 9 MNF showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos. Three other games served up in excess of 12 million fans.

(Too late to be counted among November’s deliveries was the most recent installment of MNF, the Nov. 30 Saints-Patriots blowout that drew a national TV audience of 21.4 million viewers. ESPN’s 13th Monday Night Football telecast of the 2009-10 NFL season now ranks as the second most-watched program in cable history, behind the Oct. 5  Vikings-Packers throw down, which drew a record 21.8 million viewers.)

After dropping to third place in October, USA Network jumped a notch, averaging 3.22 million total viewers, a 13 percent improvement from last November’s 2.86 million. Although the network saw declines in the demos, USA took second among adults 25-54, drawing 1.39 million (down 3 percent), and viewers 18-49 (1.3 million, down 9 percent from its year-ago 1.43 million).

USA took a double-digit dip among viewers 18-34, falling 13 percent on the month to 584,000. The network tied TBS for second among the younger set.

Of the top 20 most-watched programs on basic cable, USA accounted for five. The net put together its best performance on Friday, Oct. 30, as the new original series White Collar drew 6.27 million viewers in its 10 p.m. time slot, per live-plus-seven-day data. That marked a 24 percent lift from the previously reported live-plus-same-day delivery of 5.08 million viewers.

Also drawing a crowd was the USA drama Monk, which is wrapping Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. after an eight-season run. Part one of the two-part finale drew 5.82 million viewers, of which 2.4 million were members of the 25-54 demo.

Fox News Channel moved back into third place, drawing a nightly crowd of 2.21 million viewers, of which 585,000 were adults 25-54. While FNC saw some slippage, falling 14 percent in total viewers and among the core news demo, its year-ago numbers reflected the huge lift it enjoyed during Election Day 2008 and its immediate aftermath.

Fourth place went to TNT and its nightly draw of 1.86 million viewers, which was down 5 percent from the year-ago 1.96 million. The Turner net posted its best demo delivery among the 25-54 crowd, averaging a third-place 903,000 (down 6 percent). Moreover, TNT finished fourth among viewers 18-49, dropping 5 percent to 873,000.

TNT squeezed by sibling TBS, which averaged 1.83 million viewers, up 1 percent versus a year ago. TBS notched its strongest demo delivery with the core TV target, drawing a third-place 1.05 million viewers 18-49. The network placed forth among adults 25-54, averaging 897,000. Both demos slipped by 1 percent.

Rounding out the month’s top 10 were: Nick at Nite, which grew 9 percent in prime with an average draw of 1.82 million viewers; A&E, up 11 percent with 1.49 million viewers; Cartoon Network, which fell 5 percent to 1.39 million; FX, up 4 percent with 1.38 million viewers and Syfy, up 2 percent (1.35 million).