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 in July of 2012. 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, occasionally 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. Original programming is also leaking out of primetime into late night, as USA turns its eye to a new time-period.
JANUARY 2013 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / January 2013 vs. January 2012 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
JANUARY 2013: USA's primetime line-up saw 7% improvement on adult 25-54 ratings compared to January 2012, a fact that is more impressive when you consider USA did not achieve year over year growth for any month of 2012. USA was able to (slightly) improve ratings over last month as well, with 3% growth on household and adult 25-54 ratings and 4% growth on adults 18-49. This month’s primetime ratings were at the same level as 2012’s best-rated month, August 2012, when the net was running full steam in the peak summer season.
Has the tide finally turned in USA’s favor? Maybe, but some of the growth stems from the Nieslen calendar – Nielsen’s January 2012 began on 12/26, which includes the last week of December, a slow ratings week. This year’s Nielsen “January” begins on December 31st.
The schedule is not dramatically different from last year. NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU were the foundation of the schedule both last January and this January, running about seven times per week each, accounting for two-thirds of the primetime lineup. NCIS audience delivery was flat with last month and down between five and seven percent vs. last year. LAW & ORDER: SVU was up by nine percent vs. both last month and last year. A New Year's Day marathon of SVU helped boost numbers, setting some new records for USA. According to the net's PR machine, it was the best Total Day (6a-3a) performance on USA for any day of the week in P18-49 (1.2M) in three years and the best New Year's Day Primetime performance since 1993. The release was headed with the banner "the power of linear TV." It certainly proves that a well-timed marathon is a valuable tool in a programmer's pocket.
The additional hour of WWE on Monday nights also helped nudge the ratings in the right direction.
USA is one of the few ad-supported cable networks running scripted original dramas this January (FX, Syfy and ABC Family were some of the others). There were three originals running on USA: SUITS, WHITE COLLAR and NECESSARY ROUGHNESS. SUITS is pulling the best ratings of the bunch, and it is topping its time period among ad-supported cable nets. WHITE COLLAR had just one outing in January, and that single performance pulled 6% more men 18-49 than last year’s two episodes but 19% fewer adults 25-54. NECESSARY ROUGHNESS also ran just once this January. That telecast was the lowest rated of the three originals, and was the only one to hold a decided female skew.
If there is one thing USA could use it is momentum. The rest of the cable field will be more competitive in February. Perhaps USA’s early season premieres will give it the leg up it needs for a successful winter season.