USA Unseats ESPN With Cable Ratings Win

For the second time since the 2008 NFL season began, ESPN last week failed to win the prime-time cable ratings race, trailing top-ranked USA Network by around a quarter of a million viewers.

USA delivered an average 3.11 million viewers in prime during the week ended Dec. 14, while going on to sweep the three major demos. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the net averaged 1.56 million viewers 18-49, 1.51 million adults 25-54 and 799,000 18-34s.

As is so often the case, USA’s biggest attraction was its Monday night WWE Raw showcase. A special three-hour Raw event drew 4.59 million viewers on Dec. 8; moreover, the individual hours accounted for three of the week’s most-watched telecasts.

While ESPN once again posted the highest programming rating of the week, scaring up 11.6 million viewers with its Monday Night Football matchup between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the network missed the big draw of a Saturday night college football game. (In place of a live game, ESPN’s coverage of the 2008 Heisman Trophy presentation picked up 4.15 million viewers Saturday night at 8 p.m.)

ESPN took second place in the two biggest demos, averaging 1.43 million 25-54s and 1.42 million 18-49s. The sports net just missed the silver among the 18-34 set, as TBS squeaked by with 714,000 viewers, beating ESPN in the demo by less than 1,000.

The last time ESPN’s prime-time football lineup didn’t secure the ratings crown was the week ended Nov. 9, which happened to coincide with a little thing called Election Day. (ESPN on that particular week took third, following Fox News Channel and CNN.)

Fox News Channel surged back into third place on the week, averaging 2.38 million viewers, followed by ABC Family (2.3 million) and TBS (1.93 million).

While Hallmark Channel finished short of the top five, taking sixth place with 1.84 million viewers, the network boasted a big delivery with its original movie The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, which served up 4.04 million viewers Saturday in the 9-11 p.m. time slot.

Meanwhile, non-ad-supported Disney Channel finished the week third among all basic cable nets, averaging 2.41 million viewers.

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