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.
FEBRUARY 2013 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / February 2013 vs. February 2012 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
FEBRUARY 2013: The ratings momentum garnered by USA last month came to a quick halt this February. USA was one of the few cable nets to air original scripted dramas in January, and it was able to record ratings growth vs. the previous year, a feat it did not accomplish in all of 2012. However, this month’s average adult primetime ratings were slightly off vs.both last year and last month, down by about 5%. None of the returning programs from last month or last year were able to grow adult 18-49 or 25-54 ratings.
The exception was WWE, which did show improvement vs. last month, but dropped by about 10% vs. last year. Despite the decline, WWE still helped lead Monday to 20% improvements on men vs. last year, due to the additional hour of air-time it is now receiving.
USA had three original series, a public service initiative and a dog show in the works this month, but the crux of the primetime line-up is still the off-net procedurals. LAW & ORDER: SVU and NCIS together fill up an average of 13 hours, or 62% of the primetime schedule every week. They both produce big ratings and sizable live lead-in audiences for the USA originals at 10PM, but they are also on the decline. Compared to last year NCIS lost 19% of adult 25-54 ratings while SVU dropped 4% vs. last year and 17% vs. last month.
Of the three originals on the air this month, SUITS was the clear leader. It dropped 10% to 15% of its audience vs. last month, but retains its spot right behind WWE in the ratings rankers. WHITE COLLAR was also off by 15% or so vs. last month on adults. WHITE COLLAR joins SUITS and WWE as the only USA program to offer a male skew. NECESSARY ROUGHNESS brings up the rear, with the lowest numbers on February’s primetime line-up. Its adult ratings fell behind the off-net procedurals and the movie average as well. A renewal for the original drama is questionable.
Movies were unusually strong this February. Spurred by Schindler’s List as part of the Characters Unite public service campaign, movie ratings grew by 80% on households and 35% on adult ratings.
Despite the losses USA faced this month, it was still able to claim its place as the top-ranked cable network among households, total viewers and adults 25-54 for the month of February. However, the 18-49 crown went to TBS.
PSYCH had a successful return to USA in March, in what is rumored to be its last season. The network has a lot more programming in the works. Something fresh and new is needed to set USA back on its growth course.