USA's line-up is one of the most watchable in cable. Designed to make it easy for viewers to know when to tune in and what to expect, the net rarely makes a programming misstep.
WWE dominates Monday nights and took over all three primetime hours this 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 summer, Friday and Sunday nights were back in play, and USA is considering running series straight through instead of splitting them up into summer and winter seasons. 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 begins 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.
AUGUST 2012 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / August 2012 vs. August 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
AUGUST 2012: Another good news / bad news month for USA as the network was able to claim the top-spot in cable for the 7th summer in a row, even as August brought 16% adult 25-54 ratings declines vs. last year and 3% declines vs. last month. There is no doubt the Summer Olympics contributed to the drop-off, but USA has been struggling to hold ratings all year.
With an expanded WWE, seven original drama series and one miniseries, USA is not resting on its laurels; production and development are running at full speed. However, not one program returning from either last year or last month was able to gain audience. Program ratings declines compared to last year ranged from minor (SUITS and WWE) to severe (NECESSARY ROUGHNESS and COVERT AFFAIRS).
Even with the full original programming roster, procedurals NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU still hold the most real estate on the schedule. Between them they comprised 47 hours of primetime this August, or slightly more than half of the schedule. If they weren’t scheduled as full three hour blocks they were the anchor leading into the high profile originals. The two programs are pace-setters, and compared to last year they are both down by about 25%.
Of note, USA’s bottom-line 18-49 audience skews 52% male this month. The audience typically skews more female (about 60/40). This is due in large part to the additional hour of WWE, but men are outpacing women on other programs, particularly Thursday night’s BURN NOTICE and SUITS and Tuesday’s WHITE COLLAR. LAW & ORDER: SVU stands out as the program with the strongest female (or weakest male) skew; about two-thirds of its audience is female.
There were three notable finales on the air this August. BURN NOTICE and SUITS had their mid-season finales on Thursday August 24th, after the Olympics were over. Both programs improved vs. last summer’s finales (+4% on adults 18-49 and 25-54 for BURN NOTICE and + 30% for SUITS). According to USA, “in the 10PM hour SUITS made USA #1, beating all cable and broadcast networks among P18-49 and P25-54.”
POLITICAL ANIMALS was short of expectations all season, but it did rebound for its finale on Sunday, August 19th. On the night of the finale USA ran a special NCIS block where fans were able to comment on the popular episode, “Gibbs Rules.” Numbers for NCIS were up by 30% vs. the previous week. It led into the finale of POLITICAL ANIMALS, which was up by 26% vs. the previous week. The following week POLITICAL ANIMALS was replaced with LAW & ORDER: SVU, which pulled virtually identical numbers for its men and women 25-54 ratings, but superior numbers among the 18-49 demos. Still no word on a series pick-up for the much-publicized “limited series event.”