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. In the busy summer season five nights are in play, and USA has experimented with 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.
A new Denis Leary comedy pilot SIRENS has begun production and the net is moving ahead with three unscripted projects -- PARTNERS IN CRIME (docusoap), ALL IN (gameshow) and THE COWBOY WAY (observational documentary). Previously announced projects set to launch in 2013 include unscripted series THE CHOIR and THE MOMENT, plus a pilot for BRIDE OR BEST MAN.
What is USA looking for in unscripted? “Our approach to reality storytelling is to showcase a broad spectrum of life’s real characters,” said Heather Olander, svp alternative programming. “By partnering with these reality heavyweights, whose distinct voices have influenced the genre, we are offering audiences a new reason to engage with USA.” – USA press release
NOVEMBER 2012 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / November 2012 vs. November 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
NOVEMBER 2012: After hitting a low point in October, USA made a slight turn in the right direction this month. Bottom-line primetime numbers improved by 7% on households and 8% on men, while women stayed at basically the same level compared to last month. But the network is still off of last year’s exceptional pace, down 9% on households and as much as 19% on demo.
For all the talk of big change ahead for USA, the November 2012 primetime line-up looks very similar to the November 2011 line-up. Mondays are still about Wrestling (with an extra hour this year), there are a handful of movies scattered about the weekends and there are a couple of original dramas in the rotation. The rest of the line-up is devoted to off-net procedurals LAW & ORDER: SVU and NCIS.
The two procedurals comprise 65% of the primetime schedule, and continue to set the pace at USA. Driving the bottom-line, their ratings improved vs. last month and fell vs. last year. Of note, the audience for the program is aging, as demo declines outpaced household declines vs. last year.
The extra hour of wrestling helped to boost Monday’s numbers among young men as older women left, netting out in a one percent loss on household ratings.
Original dramas on the air this month are COVERT AFFAIRS and BURN NOTICE. Last year it was COVERT AFFAIRS and PSYCH. Tuesdays brought the second half of season three of COVERT AFFAIRS, which is also off-pace. Among core women 25-54 it is down 18% vs. last month and 4% vs. last year. Still, it is the second-highest W25-54 rated program behind BURN NOTICE. BURN NOTICE is second to WWE on its core demo, men 25-54.
There were a couple of special initiatives this month on USA. One was a low-rated HURRICANE SANDY CONCERT, which was part of an NBCUniversal initiative on a Friday night. The other was a special screening of A Color Purple, which was part of Bonnie Hammer’s quarterly Characters Unite public-service initiative. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Saturday nights were selected to reach families and to avoid weeknight ratings pressure. There were limited commercials and an introduction by Whoopie Goldberg, and the screening succeeded in being the top-rated movie of the month (although ELF was not yet in the rotation).
Those two initiatives were all that was new on USA’s air this month. But behind the scenes change is afoot. It seems that each month another non-USA, non-sunny/blue-skies project is announced. A prime example is WHEN THE WOMEN COME TO DANCE, an Elmore Leonard short story adaptation that has been ordered to pilot. Elmore Leonard’s twisted and dark works have helped define FX’s “Out of the box” branding. As we said, change is afoot at USA.