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 began 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.
SEPTEMBER 2012 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / September 2012 vs. September 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
SEPTEMBER 2012: USA wrapped up the summer season with claims of a record seventh year as the #1 rated cable net for third quarter among people 18-49 and 25-54. Among total viewers (people 2+) third quarter 2012 marked the 25th quarter in a row as USA’s position as the number one ad-supported cable entertainment network. And despite all that, USA dropped ratings versus last year. With no Summer Olympics to blame this month, USA dropped 10% of its adult 18-49 ratings and 8% of its adult 25-54 ratings from September 2011. Compared to last month ratings were down by single digits. In fact, the majority of the broad-based, higher rated networks have been experiencing broadcast-like erosion all year.
Every returning USA program, with the exception of Monday night’s WWE, was down by double digits vs. last year. Most notably, NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU lost a quarter of their adult ratings from September 2011. This is a double whammy on the bottom line, since each of the off-net procedurals had 37 primetime runs this month. That equals about 70% of the line-up. And that is something that is nearly impossible to overcome. Suddenly, that 8% ratings drop seems like quite an accomplishment.
USA’s survival strategy was to minimize the lower rated fare while expanding the number of hours of the higher rated programming; fewer movies and USA originals combined with more hours of wrestling (from 2 hours a week to 3 hours a week) and more runs of original dramas (from two weeks to four).
Mondays are still reaping the benefits of an extra hour of top-rated WWE. The franchise pulls the strongest male numbers on the network, and usually the strongest numbers in all of cable.
Many of USA’s original dramas regularly outperform wrestling on women and sometimes on adult demos. And most of the originals are among the top performers in cable. Still, their ratings are slipping.
Tuesday’s COVERT AFFAIRS and WHITE COLLAR both topped wrestling on women, but not adults or men. The two programs saw their finales and their renewals this month after handily outpacing their August performances. Neither program was on the air last September, but compared to their August 2011 performance, COVERT AFFAIRS dropped audience, while WHITE COLLAR shows some signs of growth.
ROYAL PAINS was the top performer on households and women for USA this month, but it dropped 28% of its adult 25-54 audience vs. last year. Its companion program, NECESSARY ROUGHNESS, dropped 38%.
The rest of the week was filled with the off-net procedurals and a single theatrical, Bad Boys 2, which ended up at the bottom of the ratings rankers.