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.
WWE dominates Monday nights and will take over all three primetime hours in July. Off network dramas comprise the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. The network acquisitions bring in a steady audience flow and a lot of live viewing that is used to help build original franchises. 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. This year Friday nights are back in play, and USA is considering running series straight through the season instead of splitting them up. The network uses the large live audiences of acquired network series to lead-in to its high profile dramas. Original programming is running nearly all year long now. " We are now a four-quarter network, even though our dominance is in the summer. We don’t want to be beholden to a 52-week schedule, but it’s about having something on always to keep us in the audience’s mind," (Jeff Wachtel in MultiChannel News).
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. There have also been some public moves towards expanding original programming into late night and daytime.
JUNE 2012 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / June 2012 vs. June 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
JUNE 2012: Summer has arrived and so has USA, with six original dramas running on three nights of the week. Five of the six series deliver an average of more than 2 million households each week, and yet, USA took year over year double-digit declines again this month. The plan is in place to reverse this erosion by bringing new viewers to the network – expanding out into reality and comedy while pushing the dramas beyond USA’s blue-skies aspirational formula. In a recent MultiChannel News article, co-presidents Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel explain “If you’re complacent and you just stick with what you do, I think you’re in danger of losing [your] position. … I think you have to take some calculated risks to freshen the network and actually freshen the audience mix.”
USA’s week starts strong with the top-rated WWE franchise. 52 weeks a year wrestling brings big audiences that few programs can match. WWE ENTERTAINMENT held or grew core audience vs. last year, a feat no other returning program on USA’s line-up can claim.
Tuesdays’ and Sundays’ stacks of LAW & ORDER: SVU were still in place this month, with flat to down ratings vs. May. SVU’s numbers were about 25% higher last year. The program underperforms the primetime average, but it does manage to pull the strongest female skew on the line-up, which earns it 29 primetime appearances. NCIS, the other acquired program in heavy rotation with 16 telecasts this month has a more balanced male/female skew and a high percentage of live viewers, giving it the job of leading in to USA’s signature original dramas.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were the core of the schedule this June, with pairs of dramas running each night. Wednesday’s duo of ROYAL PAINS and NECESSARY ROUGHNESS pushed the night to the best ratings outside of Monday’s WWE, and is particularly strong with women. Thursday’s BURN NOTICE and SUITS one-two punch brings in the men. Both Wednesday and Thursday consistently beat the increasingly competitive cable pack. Friday, one of the tougher nights in which to keep a loyal audience tuned in, features FARILY LEGAL and COMMON LAW. FAIRLY LEGAL is holding strong through the month, and built audience by 20% among 18-49 demos vs. last month. COMMON LAW is not faring as well, losing audience each week and putting in an average performance that is 10% lower than last month.
Another sign of summer for USA is blockbuster movies. The net saves its big theatricals for summer and holidays, when it gets the most bang for its massive movie investment. This month Couples Retreat helped more than double female ratings for the movie average vs. last year, but movies remain near the bottom of the ratings heap, even with an average audience well over one million households.