USA Analysis



USA’s scheduling, like its programming, is extraordinarily consistent, making it easy for viewers to know what to expect when they tune in.

Off network dramas comprise the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU typically fill that role.

Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. Premiere nights for original one-hour dramas lean to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the remainder of the schedule left to off net acquisitions and movies. Originals returned to Sunday nights this June, giving USA five nights of original programming. And Friday nights are being looked at again, according to Chris McCumber. The season for original programming has expanded as well. Once relegated to the non-competitive summer months, USA continued to successfully expand its roster of originals, with new series and new episodes running nearly all year, leaving just a couple of bridge months left to fill.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2011 vs. December 2010 (% Change)




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Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

DECEMBER 2011:  This last month of 2011 was one of the best-rated months of the year for USA, but as we have seen with other months where originals are prominent, ratings are off by double-digits vs. 2010. USA’s ratings were at their peak during the months with originals on the air, but those same months consistently took the biggest year over year declines. This December USA kept its household ratings even with last year, but dropped 16% of its adult 18-49 ratings and 18% of its 25-54 ratings. The net lost more men than women, and the audience aged by over 5 years.

Still, USA is so far ahead of the cable pack that it was able to maintain its number one position among all the ad-supported cable nets this year. According to the trades this is the sixth year in a row that USA took the top spot for primetime viewing. It ranked number one among both total viewers and adults 18-49.

Even with its number one position, USA is left with the fact that an increased amount of original programming on an increased number of nights failed to grow ratings. The trades are reporting that USA’s 2011 ratings were flat vs. last year, but this is based on household ratings, which dropped by 3%. 18-49 ratings fell by 6% while 25-54 ratings fell by 8%. Not double digit declines, but not flat either.

Scripted original dramas are no longer the ratings leaders they once were. WWE is now consistently USA’s number one rated program, while in year’s past, original dramas would top the charts. All three originals that were on the air this month improved performance vs. November. COVERT AFFAIRS pulled in the best adult 25-54 ratings and improved by 42% vs. November. BURN NOTICE jumped 20% and PSYCH climbed by 6%. Compared to last year, adult 25-54 ratings for PSYCH were up by just 2% and BURN NOTICE took a 40% tumble. Off net crime dramas LAW & ORDER: SVU and NCIS were the workhorses this month, consistently pulling in better ratings that the original programs they lead into.

Time-shifted viewing undoubtedly plays a role here. Original drama series on cable are the most likely candidates for time-shifted viewing, with a recently released Nielsen report citing USA programs COVERT AFFAIRS and PSYCH as two of the most time-shifted programs on all of television. When looking at the live+7 data, we see that only half of these programs’ viewers watched them live.

What is a network to do when it is able to attract viewers whom advertisers don’t recognize? USA has chosen to expand out into other genres and other dayparts. The net has been actively developing comedy and reality programs. In November it aired its first tele-movie in years, and a latenight talk show runs on January 11. The one hour special, OUT OF CHARACTER WITH KRISTA SMITH is a trial balloon designed to test of USA’s potential.

Will audiences watch? Maybe, maybe not, but you can be sure that most cable programmers will take note.