Nellie Andreeva

Network and Program Rankings after the jump
There was little change at the top of the basic cable rankings for 2010, with USA, Disney Channel, ESPN, TNT and Fox News Channel once again ranking as the most watched networks. In 18-49, USA, ESPN, TBS and TNT returned as No.1-4, with History rounding out the Top 5.

USA was the top cable network for a fifth consecutive year, ranking as No.1 in total viewers as well as adults 18-49 and 25-54 on the strength of its original series, including Burn Notice and Royal Pains, as well as WWE Monday Night Raw. It was down 4% in total viewers and 10% in 18-49 from last year. The network’s newest series, Covert Affairs, was the summer’s No.1 freshman cable series in 18-49.
History has come a long ways from its days as “the Hitler channel.” With unscripted fare such as Pawn Stars and American Pickers, the cable channel posted its best year ever and was the biggest gainer in the top 20, up 35% from last year, to crack the Top 10 in both total viewers and 18-49 for the first time in its history. It jumped from No.14 to No.8 in total viewers and from No.13 to No.5 in 18-49. In both categories, it leapfrogged A&E to rank as the top-rated A&E TV network for the first time.

TNT, which was unchanged in viewers and down 5% in 18-49, boasted the top 2 most watched series on basic cable, Rizzoli & Isles (8.8 million) and The Closer (8.3 million). USA’s Royal Pains (7.3 million) was third. In 18-49, AMC’s breakout new hit The Walking Dead (4.5 million) was No.1, followed by MTV’s red-hot Jersey Shore (4.2 million) and Discovery’s Deadliest Catch (3.2 million), whose ratings soared around the death of Captain Phil Harris. ESPN had the top 10 most watched cable telecasts, all games from its Monday Night Football franchise, led by the October 25 Giants-Cowboy Game (18 million).

Fueled by Jersey Shore, Teen Mom and the Video Music Awards, MTV posted the second biggest ratings gain among the top cable networks, 22% in total viewers, climbing five spots to No. 21, and 19% in 18-49, up from No.17 to No.10. The 2010 Video Music Awards was the top cable telecast for the year in persons 12-34. Also posting double-digit gains were TV Land, which is riding on the success of its first original series Hot in Cleveland, Bravo, which expanded to five nights of original programming, and E!.

Among the news networks, Fox News Channel continues to be the dominant player, finishing as No.1 in total viewers for a ninth straight year. It was down 7% from last year in total viewers and news nets’ target demo of 25-54. FNC’s flagship program The O’Reilly Factor (3.2 million) was once again the most watched cable news program, logging its second most-watched year ever. Meanwhile, 2010 will rank as CNN’s lowest-rated year in primetime in at least 14 years. The network is down 35% year-to-year, following a 30% decline from 2008 to 2009, and fell behind MSNBC for the first time in total viewers. (MSNBC is down 6% in viewers and 12% in 25-54.)

Besides CNN, Hallmark Channel also appears to be in free fall, down 23% in viewers to drop out of the Top 20. Last year, it was down 18%. Additionally, Spike too posted its second consecutive year of double-digit declines in total viewers (-14%). FX slipped by 7% in total viewers and 10% in 18-49 to drop out of the top 10 in viewers and the top 5 in 18-49. Here is a list of the top cable networks and programs in total viewers and adults 18-49 for 2010 (data through Dec. 19):
Top 20 Cable Networks Primetime: Total
Viewers (in thousands)
USA 3,151 -4% DISNEY 2,572
+1% ESPN 2,344 +4% TNT 2,250 +n.c. FOX NEWS 2,047 -7% TBS 1,792 -3%
NICK AT NIGHT 1,722 -1% HISTORY 1,637 +35% A&E 1,461 n.c.
ABC FAMILY 1,423 -5% CARTOON 1,362 +5% FX 1,268 -7% DISCOVERY 1,261
+1% HGTV 1,229 +2% SYFY 1,199 -6% LIFETIME 1,153 -3% FOOD 1,147 +3%
TRUTV 1,127 +4% TLC 1,105 +3% AMC 1,091 +5% MTV 985 +22% COMEDY
CENTRAL 975 -2% SPIKE 917 -14% BRAVO 872 +10% HALLMARK 848 -23%
TVLAND 827 +15% BET 788 +1% MSNBC 772 -6% E! 679 +14%
Top 15 Cable Networks Primetime: Adults 18-49
(in thousands)
USA 1,241 -10% ESPN 1,130 +4% TBS
1,005 -6% TNT 979 -5% HISTORY 757 +35% A&E 703 n.c. FX 703
-10% DISCOVERY 674 n.c. ABC FAMILY 648 +6% MTV 633 +19%
COMEDY CENTRAL 611 +3% FOOD 566 +1% DISNEY 551 -1% TLC 549 -1% SYFY
539 -11%