AMC's 'The Walking Dead' was the year's top-rated cable series.(Photo: Tina Rowden, AMC)
Viewers flocked to TBS and History in 2012, but fled from several other big cable channels, including Nickelodeon and MTV.
Nielsen ratings out Thursday showed the total cable audience was
unchanged from 2011, even as most broadcast networks lost viewers. But
as usual, it was a case of the haves and have-nots.
ranked networks in prime time were mostly the same as the previous year,
though History (up 8%, to a record average 2.2 million) moved up
slightly to become the No. 5 network among all viewers thanks to its
huge Hatfields & McCoys miniseries and non-historical series such as Pawn Stars and Swamp People.
was again the No. 1 network, averaging 2.9 million viewers in prime
time, but fell 8% from 2011 and 11% among adults ages 18 to 49. Disney
was No. 2 in prime time, averaging 2.4 million, down 9%, and ESPN was
No. 3, flat at 2.3 million.
TNT, No. 4, dropped 3% to 2.2 million
viewers, though it still had three of the top five original series. But
sibling TBS jumped a big 20%, to average nearly 2 million viewers,
thanks almost entirely to frequent reruns of CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory,
which it began airing in heavy rotation. "This thing is such a
phenomenon," says David Scardino of Los Angeles ad firm RPA. "People
have fallen in love with that show." And the reruns have helped boost
CBS' numbers for originals in the show's sixth season.
Channel (2.1 million), No. 6 in prime time, was up 9%, helped by the
election and a busy news cycle that included Hurricane Sandy and the
Newtown school shootings. And while MSNBC (913,000, up 16%) also
benefited, CNN (681,000) and sibling HLN (337,000) dropped 2% and 32%
respectively as their woes continued and new management was named.
kids networks, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel tied on a full-day basis,
averaging 1.7 million viewers apiece, though Disney edged Nick among
kids for the first time. Nick was down a big 20%, as SpongeBob SquarePants could not sustain a schedule bereft of new hits, and Disney dipped 4%.
But Cartoon Network (1.2 million) began closing the gap, climbing 7%,
and smaller fry such as Disney XD (+11%), Sprout (+37%) and The Hub
(+35%) had their best years yet.
Nick wasn't the only sore spot at parent Viacom: MTV ratings swooned 23% to an average 919,000 in prime time, as Jersey Shore
cooled from a record 9 million viewers in 2011 to 3 million when the
series was canceled in December. "These numbers are down considerably,
and they haven't found something to take its place yet," Scardino says.
Nick at Nite was off 35%, Comedy Central fell 16%, BET dropped 9% and
Spike was down 8%. But VH1 was a rare bright spot, climbing 16% with
Among other gainers were Animal Planet, which rose
14%; Investigation Discovery, up 22%; National Geographic, up 15%; and
the Oprah Winfrey Network, which rebounded 29% to a still-low average
of 330,000 viewers, as the channel adjusted its programming strategy to
compete more directly with channels such as corporate sister TLC, from
which it borrowed several programs.
AMC climbed 7% among young adult viewers as zombie drama The Walking Dead soared to new heights and bested big-network rivals last fall among that audience.
Top original cable series
Prime time; viewers in millions, including live plus 7-day delayed DVR viewing:
The Walking Dead (AMC) 11.8
The Closer (TNT) 8.7
Rizzoli & Isles (TNT) 7.4
Major Crimes (TNT) 7.0
Pawn Stars (History) 6.3
Dallas (TNT) 6.1
Sons of Anarchy (FX) 6.0
Jersey Shore (MTV) 5.9
Top original cable series among ages 18 to 49
Prime time, viewers in millions, including live plus 7-day delayed DVR viewing:
The Walking Dead (AMC) 8.0
Jersey Shore (MTV) 4.3
Sons of Anarchy (FX) 4.1
Kourtney & Kim Take New York (E!) 3.3
Teen Mom 2 (MTV) 3.2
American Horror Story (FX) 3.0
Pawn Stars (History) 3.0
Storage Wars (A&E) 2.9
Gold Rush (Discovery) 2.8
Tosh.0 (Comedy Central) 2.7
(Note: Program averages are 2012 through Dec. 9; network averages are Dec. 26, 2011 to Dec. 30, 2012)