Ratings: TNT Gets Boost From B-Ball, But USA Prevails

The NBA playoffs got off to another strong start on cable last week, and while USA Network once again polished off the competition in prime time, TNT expects that its pro hoops coverage will push it to the top of the heap in May.

According to Nielsen Media Research data for the week ended April 20, TNT’s playoff coverage tipped off with a Sunday doubleheader, as the Sixers rallied to shock the Pistons 90-86 in a first-round matchup seen by just under 3 million total viewers. The late game saw shooting guard Ray Allen lead the Celtics to a decisive 104-81 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, landing TNT some 3.43 million viewers from 8:50 p.m. to 11:22 p.m.

The twin bill helped TNT claim second place among all ad-supported cable nets, with an average 2.07 million viewers. Likewise, the Turner net put together strong demo numbers, averaging a second-best 1.03 million adults 25-54 on the week, while taking third among adults 18-49 with 1.04 million.

ESPN also saw a nice lift form its NBA playoff coverage, which tipped off Saturday April 19 with game one of the Cavs/Wizards series. The opener averaged 2.8 million viewers, nearly doubling ESPN’s delivery of its comparable year-ago Nets-Raptors game. Later in the day, the sports net also served up 3.11 million viewers with its Mavs/Hornets coverage, before capping the evening with the Jazz/Rockets game, which was seen by 3.14 million viewers between 9:46 p.m. and just after midnight Sunday.

The playoffs weren’t enough to nudge ESPN into the top five, however, as the net closed the week in the sixth spot with 1.56 million total viewers. That said, ESPN did lay claim to the number-four spot among adults 18-49 (882,000) and 18-34 (494,000).

While basketball drove viewers to TNT and ESPN, USA Network continued its dominance of the cable landscape, winning its 16th straight week with 2.71 million viewers. USA also took the 25-54 and 18-49 demos, averaging 1.19 million and 1.2 million viewers in the respective categories.

Predictably, USA was thrust to the top of the charts by its unwavering WWE Raw package, which won the week with 4.55 million viewers April 14 (9 p.m.-11 p.m.). All told, USA boasted four of the week’s top 10-rated programs on ad-supported cable, averaging 4.06 million viewers on the 19th with a 9 p.m. NCIS re-run, which led into a second episode an hour later (3.83 million).

Third place went to TBS (1.21 million), followed by Nick-at-Nite (1.67 million) and Fox News Channel (1.62 million).

Among viewers 18-49, the individual program chart was dominated by unscripted fare, as MTV’s The Hills won the demo outright with 3.22 million on April 14. Corporate sibling VH1 grabbed second with Rock of Love 2 (3.15 million), followed by Discover Channel’s Deadliest Catch, which lured 2.58 million members of the demo on the night of the 15th.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel maintained its silver-medal status as basic cable’s second-place net in prime, averaging 2.09 million viewers. The Mouse easily held onto its lead among the target demos, averaging 911,000 kids 6-11 and 780,000 ‘tweens 9-14.

In a quiet week, Disney put together its best numbers with a screening of the 2001 theatrical Spy Kids, which averaged 3.54 million viewers Saturday night between 9 p.m. and 10:35 p.m.