USA, ESPN, Fox News Top January Ratings

USA Network walked off with January’s prime-time ratings title, beating all comers with its delivery of total viewers and the core TV demos.

Per Nielsen ratings data for the period spanning Dec. 28, 2009, to Jan. 31, USA averaged 3.27 million viewers in prime, of which 1.45 million were adults 25-54. The cable network also took first among viewers 18-49 (1.34 million) and 18-34 (598,000).

Although the network has enjoyed continuous ratings growth over the course of the last several years, USA did see something of a reversal last month, as its share of adults 25-54 dropped 6 percent versus January 2009. Also on the wane were viewers 18-49, falling 10 percent from the prior-year period.

Thanks to a strong finish by Monday Night Football, a decade-topping Pro Bowl performance and a brace of non-BCS Bowl Games, ESPN nailed down second place last month, averaging 2.72 million viewers. That represents a whopping 49 percent improvement over its January 2009 deliveries (1.83 million).

The sports net also took the silver among the two larger demos, drawing a nightly crowd of 1.25 million adults 25-54 (up 43 percent) and 1.18 million viewers 18-49 (up 38 percent). Bristol claimed third among viewers 18-34 (544,000, up 32 percent), trailing TBS by 18,000 viewers.

ESPN enjoyed the greatest period of growth among any ad-supported cable network, as the hits just kept on coming. The MNF finale between the Vikings and Bears drew 17.1 million football fans on Dec. 28, topping the Jan. 31 NFL Pro Bowl (12.3 million). The last time any network served up a larger Pro Bowl audience was on Feb. 6, 2000, when ABC’s coverage of the annual AFC-NFC exhibition drew 31.2 million viewers.

All told, ESPN accounted for five of cable’s top 10 most watched programs in January, and eight of the top 20.

In the first month of the new year Fox News Channel hit the ground running, averaging 2.42 million viewers in prime, up 21 percent from its January 2009 average. In a particularly active news cycle, FNC’s coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, the special election in Massachusetts and President Obama’s first State of the Union Address helped the network take third placed among ad-supported cable nets.

In prime time, FNC boasted three of the top 10 programs, a list that includes the Jan. 19 installment of Hannity (6.81 million viewers) and the net’s Jan. 27 SOTU analysis (6.62 million).
Among the target demo, FNC continued to dominate the cable news landscape, drawing 640,000 adults 25-54 in prime, a boost of 50 percent from its year-ago 427,000. CNN averaged 259,000, a drop of 39 percent year-over-year, and MSNBC drew 227,000, down 38 percent.

Fourth place went to TNT and its nightly draw of 2.19 million viewers, which marked a 1 percent dip from the year-ago 2.22 million. The Turner net posted its best demo delivery among the 25-54 crowd, averaging a third-place 1.03 million (down 7 percent), while taking fourth place among 18-49s (969,000, down 7 percent).

Nick at Nite locked up fifth place with its average nightly draw of 1.91 million viewers (up 4 percent). January marked the network’s all-time most-watched month among total viewers.

The Nickelodeon offshoot drew the month’s biggest audience for a scripted entertainment telecast, as iCarly scared up 11.2 million viewers on Jan. 18. Lead-out Big Time Rush averaged 6.77 million viewers in the 8:30 p.m. time slot.

Rounding out the month’s top 10 were: A&E, which grew 12 percent in prime with an average draw of 1.8 million viewers; TBS, down 11 percent with 1.69 million viewers and ABC Family, which was up 2 percent to 1.54 million. Tied for ninth place were FX, down 6 percent with 1.39 million viewers and HGTV, up 22 percent. Tenth place went to History, down 6 percent to 1.38 million viewers.