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History Channel has year to remember

December 15, 2010 | 11:07 am


There's an old saying that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

Fortunately for the History Channel, that's a good thing. The cable network saw its prime-time audience grow by 35% this year, according to Nielsen. History Channel, which is co-owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst Corp., averaged 1.6 million viewers in prime time. Its audience among adults 18-49 was up by 34%, to 754,000. Both were the biggest gains of any top 10 cable network.

Of course, purists will rightly tell you that the History Channel long stopped being just about history. At one time the network was best known for its seemingly endless marathons of World War II documentaries. Now, though, it has redefined itself somewhat and has a heavy dose of reality shows such as "Ax Men," which is about loggers, and "Pawn Stars," about, well some funny guys at a pawn shop.

But the network has not completely abandoned its roots. Wednesday night's lineup includes a special on the fall of the Third Reich. That would make Tony Soprano happy. Earlier this year, it ran a series titled "America: The Story of Us," which generated strong ratings, although reviews were mixed.

The No. 1 cable network in prime time remains NBC Universal's USA Network. The channel, best known for its quirky dramas including "Burn Notice," "Royal Pains" and "White Collar," averaged 3.1 million viewers in prime time, just a 4% drop from 2009.

USA still has a healthy lead over the Disney Channel, which saw its audience grow by 1% to about 2.6 million viewers. ESPN was at No. 3 with 2.3 million viewers, an increase of 4% from last year. TNT was ranked fourth and flat in viewers while Fox News was fifth and down 7%.

Every year, Turner Broadcasting Chief Research Officer Jack Wakshlag analyzes Nielsen information to provide an overview of the television landscape. An interesting note is that the number of people with no Internet or cable TV in the country is down to just 5%, from 6.2% less than two years ago.

The big four broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox), which have lost a lot of viewers to cable over the last two decades, actually are likely to finish the year with a 32.2 share of prime-time viewing, which is up 1% from a year ago and halts a three-year skid. Advertiser-supported cable had a 60.9 share, flat from 2009.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: History Channel's "Pawn Stars." Credit: History Channel.