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.
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 were 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.
JANUARY 2013 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2012 vs. December 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
2012: USA ended 2012 at the top of the cable ratings heap, pulling the number one position for the seventh year in a row. However the growth has reversed, and 2012 brought ratings declines for USA. The net faced some rare misses this year with scripted dramas COMMON LAW and FAIRLY LEGAL and an experiment with social satire POLITICAL ANIMALS, as off-net procedurals began to fade.
DECEMBER 2012: December’s performance improved over November with double digit growth for adult demos, yet the improvements were not strong enough to pull ratings up to last year’s levels. Adult 18-49 ratings were off by 9% and adult 25-54 ratings were off by 5% over last year.
Wrestling was a big component on the line-up this month with the extra hour on Mondays plus the annual TRIBUTE TO THE TROOPS specials. Audiences for wrestling are still huge, but viewership is waning with WWE ENTERTAINMENT ratings for core men 18-49 down 11% vs. last month and 19% vs. last year. Numbers for the annual specials took significant hits as well.
Tuesdays and Fridays are driven by LAW & ORDER: SVU, while Wednesdays and most of Thursdays are steered by NCIS. The off-net procedurals also have a strong presence throughout the weekend, as they are rotated along with movies and the occasional original. Together they accounted for 63 primetime hours of programming, or 60% of the line-up. On average, both programs grew by about 20% on adult demos vs. last month. Compared to last year NCIS held while SVU dropped by 10% or so. Trying to mix things up, USA presented an NCIS Superfan Marathon on 12/9, featuring viewer comments on-air. On the 29th the two shows came together for a Holiday Recovery Marathon. The Superfan Marathon delivered slightly above average, but the Holiday Recovery Marathon brought some of the highest rated telecasts of the month.
Taking advantage of the broadcast networks’ hiatus, original episodes of BURN NOTICE and ROYAL PAINS were on the air this month. BURN NOTICE is strong on men, improving ratings over last year and last month. The special episode of ROYAL PAINS (Off-Season-Greetings) was technically the best rated program among women. (It was topped by several individual telecasts of NCIS and LAW & ORDER).
Movies are usually a big component of USA’s December, with ELF making numerous appearances on the primetime line-up. In fact, in December 2011 ELF comprised four of the five primetime movies. But not this year. There was not one primetime ELF to be found this December, and not one holiday-themed movie among the eight titles that ran. The top rated titles were G.I. Joe, Couples Retreat and The Back-Up Plan.
2013: Perhaps it is a sign of the change that is waiting around the corner. 2013 will be a pivotal year for USA. The net has been aggressively developing a number of new programming genres. Comedy is at the top of the must-do list, as MODERN FAMILY is coming this fall, in desperate need of a companion program. Gritty programs, unscripted fare, period dramas, docusoaps and documentaries are all in the works. USA is striving to unite them under its brand umbrella of “Characters Welcome” with sophisticated story telling and strong character development.