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Cable Technology Feature Article

June 25, 2012

Cable Tops Broadcast Networks to Win Summer Programming Wars

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

Broadcast networks don’t invest a lot of money in summer programming. Cheap reality shows and reruns keep the networks from losing money during a season when viewership is down.

However, cable has moved into the void and has proven that people do, in fact, watch television during the summer months. And networks are scrambling, according to TV Guide writer Michael Schneider, to wrestle summer back from their competitors.

The History Channel kicked off the summer by debuting “Hatfields & McCoys” on Memorial Day weekend and ended up having more viewers than all of the broadcast networks on the week ending June 3. TNT’s “Dallas” snagged 7 million viewers, making it the highest-rated cable premiere so far this year. TNT also has “Rizzoli & Isles” in the game; the show consistently lands in the Top 10.

HBO will table its popular “Game of Thrones” but will transition to the even more popular “True Blood.” HBO also just premiered “The Newsroom,” Aaron Sorkin’s first television drama in five years.

USA Network has “Political Animals,” “White Collar” and “Royal Pains.” FX, for its part, is pitching Charlie Sheen’s adventures in “Anger Management.” Also, A&E just broke channel records by premiering “Longmire” to over 4 million viewers.

According to Bob DeBitetto, president and general manager of A&E, “Summer continues to be cable season.” DeBitetto credits “the ability of networks like ours to market effectively, target audiences, create events around an opening, and really work to open a show the way the Hollywood studios open a big summer movie.”

ABC executives once pitched an idea to up summer viewership by airing episodes of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” during the summer, but they nixed the idea. The shows were too valuable as in-season players to be sacrificed for lower summer ratings. Some summer revivals on broadcast networks have worked in the past: Take the 1990 summer airing of “Northern Exposure” on CBS or the 1991 airing of “Beverly Hills, 90210” on Fox.

“People are watching TV in the summer, for sure,” DeBitetto says. “It's about choosing when to target those audiences. Weather is better, people are out later, but there are plenty of Americans still watching TV.

“There's a lot of broadcast fare on during the summer, but it all seems similar,” DeBitetto concludes. “If it all feels like it's not quite up to the level of the shows that the broadcast networks field in the fall, I think audiences are perceptive to that.”

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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