USA's line-up is designed to make it easy for viewers to know when to tune in and what to expect. Schedule changes are slow to come to USA, and the net rarely makes a programming misstep. But change is afoot.
WWE dominates Monday nights and 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. Movies play a lesser role, filling programming holes and holiday-themed nights and weekends.
Original one-hour dramas are starting to saturate the line-up. They ran on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in 2011, with the series split between two seasons, summer (May-September) and winter (December – March). This year Friday nights are back in play, and USA is considering running series straight through the season instead of splitting them up.
USA’s long-talked about jump into reality and comedy will begin this year, and scheduling for the new programming genres will undoubtedly stir up the extraordinarily consistent strategies of recent years.
FEBRUARY 2012 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / February 2012 vs. February 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
FEBRUARY 2012: USA’s audience continues to erode vs. previous years, dropping ever-so-slightly across the board. The primetime line-up was very similar to last year's line-up; the primary reason for USA's lack of growth. Even so, USA is still able to maintain its ratings crown, handily topping all other cable networks.
There wasn’t too much that was up at USA this month. WWE is a standout, in a genre by itself among all the serialized crime dramas. Core men 18-49 ratings for WWE are down just 3% vs. last year. WWE is now consistently USA’s number one rated program, while in years past scripted original dramas would top the charts. The program is so strong, it actually gives USA a balanced male/female skew. With WWE taken out of the mix, USA's audience would be 41% male -- with WWE it is 47% male.
While WWE dominates Monday nights, LAW & ORDER: SVU and NCIS take over most of the other nights. The two programs had 57 telecasts between them this month, or 68% of the primetime inventory, the same amount that they held in January. Ratings for each program are also about the same as they were in January, but are down 10% vs. last year. They are among the top performers on the net, giving original dramas some strong competition for the top slots, even on core demos. The common denominator between acquired series and live sporting events? Less time shifted viewing.
The original dramas in rotation this month were WHITE COLLAR on Tuesdays and ROYAL PAINS on Wednesdays. Both programs are finishing out their third seasons in the "Winter Season." USA has gone on record that they might drop the practice of splitting up seasons, choosing to run their original series straight through. The performance of the 2012 Winter Season so far would back up this decision. Of the two programs, ROYAL PAINS pulls better ratings, and has held its core women 25-54 ratings from last February and from last month. WHITE COLLAR is showing some signs of wear, and is down among women 25-54 by 14% vs. last year and 18% vs. last month. Both are down from their summer runs, when broadcast competition is less fierce and they can benefit from scripted original programming companions rather than older-skewing off-net series.
Movies are playing a smaller role than ever on USA. The bigger titles that used to be USA staples (Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Arc) can now be found on sister NBCUniversal networks. Just three titles ran on USA's primetime this month, but GI JOE: Rise of Cobra was a standout, pushing up male ratings on the weekends, and helping to stem the ratings decline.