Agency: Cable Medium Grows, But No Networks Poised To Challenge Broadcast

This summer, the cable industry proved once again that it knows how to program with a bunch of new high-rated summer series--such as TNT's "The Closer" and FX "Over There." But glaring problems remain when it comes to the growth of individual networks.

As has been known for some time, most of cable's growth come from the addition of new networks. Magna Global USA points out in a recent report that now the average home can get 90-plus channels--double what is was ten years ago.

Perhaps the most revealing number from the Magna Global study is that there are no cable networks even ready to challenge the broadcast networks in the all-important adult 18-49 demographic. Not one has been able to crack the 1.0 prime-time rating barrier for adults 18-49. Nine cable networks have managed at least a 0.5 for adults 18-49, which Magna says is up from six networks four years ago.

The household ratings metric is no better. For the last five years, there have been eight to ten cable networks with household ratings of 1.0 or higher. And seven of those networks have the same numbers that they did five years ago.



Overall, Magna says the better performance for cable networks comes from middle-tier networks--but not from the top-tier channels. Collectively, it's a different story. For the 2004-2005 season, ad-supported cable pulled in a 15.3 rating/41 share in the 2004-2005 season--up from a 14.7 rating/40 share of a year ago. The six-network broadcast average was slightly down to a 15.6/42, from a 15.6/43.

Perhaps it's also indicative that the maturity of the cable industry is having an effect on advertising sales. For the first time in years, the cable networks grew by single-digit revenue increases--up just 5% this past upfront selling season to $6.5 billion from $6.2 billion the year before, according to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.

Before the upfront period started in May, many industry experts predicted that cable would siphon a large percentage of broadcast network advertising dollars, with double-digit percent revenue increases adding as much as $1 billion or more in advertising sales.

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