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"Jon and Kate", NBA Playoff Ratings Make Cable Like Broadcast, Except ...

In the minds of many media executives and most media buyers, there is still an absurd Chinese wall between broadcast and cable, which, inexplicably, leads the broadcast networks to still outpace cable in terms of the rates they can charge advertisers. But a few ratings figures from the last couple of nights. have to make you wonder why that continues be the case:

  • The season premiere of "Jon and Kate Plus 8" -- featuring not only the sextuplets fifth birthday party, but also, marital discord between Mom and Dad, was the most-watched program on all of television on Monday night, with 9.8 million viewers.
  • Last night, TNT registered 10.1 million viewers for game four of the NBA eastern conference finals, between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, making it the highest rated basketball game (college or pro) ever on cable. It also drew substantially more viewers than broadcast net ABC's Saturday night airing of the series between the L.A. Lakers and the Denver Nuggets. (I don't follow basketball the way I once did, so I don't know some of the team dynamics at play here, but it's clear that the theory that playoffs among teams from big-market cities do better in the ratings didn't exactly work out here ... unless Cleveland or Orlando has somehow outgrown L.A.)
In a pretend letter from broadcast TV execs to advertisers earlier this week, Ad Age's Brian Steinberg summed up the networks pitch to buy them instead of cable this way:
And let's put to rest that nagging you've been hearing from our cable rivals. So you're foaming at the mouth about "The Closer" on TNT. Even Peter Rice, the new chairman of entertainment at Fox, watches it. "And it delivers 6.8 million viewers every week. That's a great number. But if it was a broadcast show, there are 75 broadcast shows that deliver more viewers than that," he said during a conference call last week. (BNET Media note: Are there really even 75 broadcast shows?)
While it's true that late May is not exactly a peak time for network TV viewership, with shows like "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars" now concluded for awhile, some of the numbers cable has been posting lately should give media buyers pause. However, and it's a big however, as Ad Age pointed out in an editorial, buyers still buy networks instead of shows, giving into the broadcast nets' demands that they buy their lesser-rated shows as part of packages that include the shows they really want, like "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI." The fix is in, but what a silly fix it is.
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