Thursday, July 13, 2006

TV has lowest-rated week ever

NEW YORK (AP) -- TV viewers must have taken to the beach: It was the least-watched week in recorded history for the four biggest broadcast networks.

CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox averaged 20.8 million viewers during the average prime-time minute last week, according to Nielsen Media Research. That sunk below the previous record of 21.5 million, set during the last week of July in 2005.

It wasn't entirely unexpected. By tradition, the week that includes Independence Day has the fewest viewers of the year, or close to it, because rerun season is in full swing and the public is consumed with outdoor activities.

There also aren't any new summer hits to entice people. Only one program, NBC's "America's Got Talent," recorded more than 10 million viewers, Nielsen said.

It was a lousy week for Brian Williams and the "NBC Nightly News," too.

Williams' newscast finished out of first place among viewers for the first time since last August, beaten by ABC's "World News Tonight," where Diane Sawyer subbed for Charles Gibson, according to Nielsen Media Research.

NBC says there's an easy explanation. Only three days were counted in the ratings following the long weekend, and on those days NBC's news was preceded in many markets by coverage of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which drew relatively little interest. NBC lost during the corresponding weeks in 2001 and 2004.

Williams was the only regular anchor working last week. Besides Sawyer, Harry Smith subbed for Bob Schieffer on CBS.

Despite Gibson's absence, it was a boost for ABC. In the month since Gibson has taken over, "World News Tonight" has widened the gap over the third-place "CBS Evening News."

"World News Tonight" averaged 7.3 million viewers and "Nightly News" had 7.2 million (both 5.1 rating, 11 share). The "CBS Evening News" averaged 6.5 million viewers (4.6, 10).

In prime time, CBS averaged 6.5 million viewers (4.4 rating, 8 share), NBC had 6 million (4.1, 8), Fox had 5.1 million (3.3, 6), ABC had 4.8 million (3.3, 6), UPN had 2 million (1.3, 3), the WB had 1.7 million (1.2, 2) and the i network had 590,000 (0.4, 1).

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led the way with 3 million viewers (1.7, 3), Telemundo had 870,000 (0.5. 1) and TeleFutura had 430,000 (0.3, 1).

On cable, USA Network's "Psych" came out of the box with 6.1 million viewers, the highest-rated new scripted series on basic cable this year.

A ratings point represents 1,102,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 110.2 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.