Buttressed by strong Monday Night Football viewership, ESPN is on track to win its second straight monthly ratings race in cable.
Through October 25, the Disney-controlled sports network averaged 3.73 million total viewers in prime time, a 28% improvement over its year-ago delivery (2.92 million).
According to Nielsen ratings data, ESPN swept the three core TV demos, drawing 1.9 million adults aged 25-54 (an increase of 31% versus October 2008); 1.88 million viewers aged 18-49 (up 28% from 1.47 million); and 855,000 viewers aged 18-34 (up 21% from 703,000).
ESPN started the month on a tear, as the October 5 installment of Monday Night Football (Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers) set the record as the most-watched telecast in cable TV history, drawing 21.9 million total viewers. The previous record was 18.6 million viewers, set by ESPN on September 15, 2008 (Eagles-Cowboys).
Through the first six weeks of the 2009-10 NFL season, ESPN's MNF coverage is averaging 15 million total viewers.
ESPN also drew big numbers with the September 28 Monday Night Football telecast, a Cowboys-Panthers tilt that delivered 15.7 million viewers. On October 19, the Chargers and Broncos AFC West grudge match drew 13.5 million viewers, while Jets-Dolphins delivered 13.1 million viewers on the night of the 12th.
ESPN held off a charge by TBS, which hosted its third season of postseason baseball. The latter's slate of 18 MLB playoff games averaged 5.15 million viewers, down 4% from the 5.38 million viewers it drew a year ago, when it carried 22 postseason games.
All told, TBS averaged 3.24 million viewers in primetime, a drop of 11% from the 3.64 million it drew in October 2008. TBS took second among the three demos, averaging 1.58 million viewers 18-49 (down 10%), 1.52 million adults 25-54 (down 13%) and 787,000 viewers 18-34 (off 5%).
For the month, TBS accounted for six of the top 10 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable, setting its high-water mark with Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. On October 21, the Phillies advanced to the World Series with a 10-4 win over the Dodgers, in a Wednesday night clincher that was seen by a TBS audience of 8 million viewers.
USA Network took third place, averaging 2.93 million total viewers, a 3% uptick from last October's 2.83 million. USA got the biggest lift of the month on Friday, October 23, as a new episode of Monk drew 5.42 million viewers before leading into the series premiere of White Collar (5.4 million). In a remarkable show of retention, White Collar held onto 99.6% of its 9 p.m. lead-in.