4 Atlanta cable networks lose viewers in 2009

For the cable industry it was a good year. Viewership was up 3 percent, and advertising spending was up 9.1 percent, according to the Nielsen Co., based on incomplete figures through the middle of December.

But for Atlanta-based cable networks, the year was mixed, at best. Among the major cable channels based here, only Turner Broadcasting System’s HLN, truTV and TNT -- increased their audiences in 2009.

Four others networks based here -- Turner’s TBS, Cartoon Network and CNN, and NBC Universal’s the Weather Channel -- lost viewers.

Total day viewership for HLN (formerly Headline News) grew by 14 percent, driven by opinion programs in prime time, including "Nancy Grace," whose audience jumped 13 percent, according to Nielsen. Total day viewership at TNT increased 1 percent this year over last year.

The truTV channel -- formerly Court TV -- showed a 6 percent gain in audience this year, increasing its total day viewership in 2008 from 704,000 to 744,000.

That good news at Turner was greatly offset by the continued erosion of viewership at CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network.

For the first time in the channel's 29-year history, CNN finished in third place in prime-time news, behind No. 1 Fox News Channel and No. 2 MSNBC, based on Nielsen's incomplete 2009 viewership figures.

In total day viewership, CNN is still No. 2 but falling further behind Fox. In 2008 CNN’s total day viewership was 699,000; in 2009 it declined to 612,000, according to Nielsen. Fox, by comparison, reported its highest ratings in history, increasing its total day viewership from 1,059,000 in 2008 to 1,196,000 in 2009, according to Nielsen.

Total day viewership at Turner's Cartoon Network also declined, from 1,091,000 in 2008 to 1,042,000 in 2009.

Turner spokeswoman Misty Skedgell attributed the Cartoon Network's dip in viewership to increased competition from Disney.

She said TBS was down in part because the network had fewer Major League Baseball games to carry this year and 'strong programming was held back for the Lopez premiere, which came late in the year."

The good news at TNT is the network’s “three night” strategyof original programming on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, launched last summer, produced the No. 1 series on ad-supported cable, “The Closer,” and three shows rated in the top 10 of new cable series:, “Leverage,” “HawthoRNe,” and “Dark Blue.”

The bad news? “The shows didn’t get as much pop as they hoped,” said Marion Hamilton, who tracks TNT and TBS for CableU.TV. “They’re still messing with the mix. That’s why USA Network had a better year. They seem to have the formula down.”

Hamilton said the bright light for TBS was the launch of Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns,” which was the No. 1 cable comedy series of the year.

“They’ve got another show coming out next year, ‘Are We There Yet,’ and they’ve got great hopes for the new show next summer ‘Neighbors From Hell' from the producer of ‘The Family Guy' series, which has been a great success for them."

Turner chief research officer Jack Wakshlag wrote in a year-end summary that TBS has great hopes in "Lopez Tonight," its late-night series starring George Lopez, which has averaged 1.4 million viewers since its launch this year.

The drop in viewership at the Weather Channel, whose total audience shrank from 269,000 in 2008 to 232,000 in 2009, is mainly because fewer hurricanes hit the U.S. in 2009 “than any time in the last eight or nine years,” spokesman David Blumenthal said. “And people turn to us in bad weather.”

He said the good news at the Weather Channel is ratings are up 14 percent during prime time on weekends since the relaunch of “Storm Stories.” And the network’s “Wake up With Al” morning show has boosted ratings in that same time period 8 percent over 2008.