Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting, says that despite rumors that the Internet and other media are siphoning away viewers, "TV viewing is stronger than ever, led by the growth of cable."
Now, cable has a 61.0 share, as compared to the 32.1 share for broadcast for the summer--up from a year ago, when cable had a 57 share and broadcast had a 36.2. It's the fifth summer in a row that cable has topped broadcast in summer viewing.
Although much has been made of broadcast networks now airing new programming in the summer--18 shows versus 11 last year--Wakshlag notes that repeat programming is also higher, representing 69 percent of networks' summer schedules, which is up from 62 percent a year ago.
But Wakshlag says cable's growth isn't coming from typical areas, such as prime time. In spite of top-rated new cable shows--including Turner's own "The Closer," "Wanted," and "Into The West," on TNT--he says gains are being made in late night, overnight, weekend daytime, and weekend mornings.
Significant changes are happening in the ratings for adults 18-49. Wakshlag says the gap in the numbers for adults 18-49 between the top four broadcast networks and the top four ad-supported cable networks--now TNT, USA, TBS, and Spike--is closing. Broadcast networks had a 3.4 ratings lead, and now Wakshlag says it's only 1.3 ratings.
Cable has made some collective gains, but even some high-profile shows are sinking this summer--USA Network's "The 4400" is down 28 percent versus a year ago; FX's "Rescue Me" is off 12 percent; and Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" has dropped off 17 percent. Wakshlag takes issue with reports that established cable networks aren't making gains. This summer, he says, those networks that have grown include Spike (60 percent higher), AMC (plus 24 percent), BET (23 percent more), Lifetime (up 9 percent), and VH1, A&E, and TNT (all up 8 percent).
Cable networks trending down this summer include FX (off 7 percent), ESPN (16 percent lower), and TLC and Discovery Channel (both down 19 percent). FX took it on the chin because it replaced "Fear Factor" with "King of the Hill," said Wakshlag. Lower ratings in poker and baseball programming were the reasons for ESPN's fall. TLC still continues to suffer with "Trading Spaces." Some of Discovery Channel's car shows--"Monster Garage" and "American Chopper"--are down in viewers.
Research points to late night as a growing area--especially for younger adults. Wakshlag says Cartoon Networks' Adult Swim programming block and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" are gaining here.
Wakshlag also points out that for the first summer ever, TNT, an ad-supported cable network, out-delivered two broadcast networks--WB and UPN--in adults 25-54, viewers, and households.
As far as local people meters are concerned, Wakshlag says they have had no noticeable effect on either national cable or broadcast ratings. "Locally, however, the switch from meter diary to People Meters has erased the underreporting of cable networks and removed over-claiming that benefited local broadcast stations," he said in an e-mail.
Regarding the upcoming DVR viewing that Nielsen will be releasing in January, he says: "Technically difficult households are likely to be heavier viewing homes, as it is heavy viewing homes that would have a DVR. That suggests an uptick when their viewing is counted, but it may not be noticeable, since they are in only a small percentage of households."