A Landmark Week for Cable: How History Beat The Broadcast Networks
Hatfield & McCoys
History's record-breaking Hatfields & McCoys made headlines last week, but gone mostly unnoticed in the shuffle was news of something even more ground-breaking for the entire TV industry: For the week ending June 3, History ranked as the No. 1 network among total viewers.
As far as anyone can tell, that's the first time a cable network has ever outright won an entire week with total viewers. And to make it clear, that's not just No. 1 in cable — we're talking the entire TV landscape. History averaged 6 million for the full week in primetime, edging out CBS (5.9 million), NBC (4.8 million), ABC (4.7 million), ESPN (4.5 million) and Fox (3.5 million).
The broadcast networks have always prided themselves in offering bigger offerings to a broader audience compared to the niche nature of cable. But cable has been breathing down the networks' necks for some time, particularly in younger demographics. A week-long cable win was bound to happen sometime, particularly in summer.
And now it has. History, of course, reached the top spot thanks to Hatfields, which averaged 13.8 million viewers over three nights. But its signature shows Pawn Stars and Swamp People also landed among the week's top shows. The broadcast networks, on the other hand, were mostly in repeats.
Network research departments haven't historically tracked broadcast and cable ratings side-by-side — since, until recently, it was considered apples and oranges. That's why even History wasn't sure at first whether they had achieved such a historic ratings benchmark. After TV Guide Magazine inquired, History's research team said they couldn't find an instance of a basic cable winning a week going back to 1998 (and given how large the broadcast network audiences were back then, it's almost a guarantee no cable network won a week before then).
CBS also couldn't verify for sure whether a basic cable network had previously won an entire week, but says Disney Channel may have come closest in August 2007, when High School Musical 2 averaged a big enough rating for Disney to place second that week (with 6 million, below CBS' 6.7 million).
"We're thrilled by the success of this historic ratings milestone, winning the week across the entire TV landscape in total viewers for the first time in the history of television," History and Lifetime Networks president Nancy Dubuc tells TV Guide Magazine. "We built this success not just on the auspices of our first scripted mini-series, Hatfields & McCoys, but on the incredible popularity of our network overall — this is a testament to the power of the brand, the quality in every aspect of everything we do. History is America's network, we own the non-fiction genre with the best character driven series and mega event specials in the landscape and now we have moved into historical drama and we intend to keep the bar high."
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