History was made this summer by a cable network -- but if you are an advertiser, you can't really buy into it.
The Disney Channel averaged 3.1 million viewers during the summer -- more than any other network in the history of cable. That was 7% more than the two previous record holders for the summers of 2006 and 2005 respectively, USA Network and TNT.
Disney's "High School Musical 2" is a major reason for the channel's performance, with "Musical" becoming the most most-watched individual program in cable history, with 17.2 million viewers for its premiere. Also adding to the big numbers were the series "Hannah Montana" and "Suite Life of Zack & Cody" and the theatrical movies "Ella Enchanted" and "Spy Kids 3: Game Over."
But marketers can't buy much of the Disney Channel because it doesn't run commercials. Still, there are disruptions. Disney runs promos for its other programs during its shows.
And, in the case, of "High School Musical 2," Dannon's Danimals, lowfat yogurt and smoothies, bought a static billboard before the start of the show's premiere -- as well as one PBS-like Dannon spot during the show.
No doubt there are other ways for Disney to merchandise and market its prime-time efforts. So Disney has some commercial spin. Gee, what a surprise. Still, versus other cable networks with long commercial pods, it's no contest.
Some of Disney's competitors complain that with its no-commercial mode of operation it shouldn't be included in the cable prime-time ratings race. Networks such as USA, TNT, A&E, TBS, and Discovery may have to work harder to keep viewers' attention with programs that have commercials.
TV executives back in the late '70s and early '80s promised cable would be way different than what airs on the broadcast networks. Possibly only HBO and Showtime (because they are commercial-free and swear a lot) and maybe FX (because it's got rough subject matter and would like to swear more) could claim to be in this category, as well.
What viewers get with many advertising-supported basic cable shows --especially the dramas -- are quality shows equal to, but not necessarily better than, those on broadcast TV.
Disney Channel tries a different tack, with which it dances -- and sings -- off with the top viewer prize.