MARCH 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
USA is extraordinarily consistent month-to-month and week-to-week, yet the network manages to keep the schedule fresh.
Off network dramas are the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. NCIS, LAW & ORDER: SVU and HOUSE fill that role. Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. Preferred nights for original series used to be Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. But that was so 2009. A new strategy started up in January, with originals airing alone (without a companion original series) at 10PM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Although it looks like USA will use companion series as lead-ins to launch new programs in the summer.
Movies have taken a back seat lately, with a diminished presence on the primetime line-up, although movie package purchasing is somewhat active, and the genre remains relevant to the network's overall strategy.
MARCH 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / March 2010 vs. March 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
February was a rare down month for USA, but it was easy to write that off to the Winter Olympics, which seemed to negatively impact nearly every cable net. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to see March numbers down. Compared to under-performing February, bottom line adult 18-49 ratings are down 6% and adult 25-54 ratings are down by 2%. Compared to last year, adult 18-49 ratings are down nearly every night, with the Monday - Sunday average off by 16% among adults 18-49 and down 12% among adults 25-54.
WWE was the top performing program again this month. The program is a solid anchor for the network, but it does show slight declines in core men 18-49 ratings, down 4% vs. last month and 9% vs. last year.
BURN NOTICE, WHITE COLLAR and PSYCH each finished up their mini mid-season runs this March. WHITE COLLAR had a strong finale on Tuesday the 9th, and continued to build on lead-in programming (SVU and movies). On Wednesdays, PSYCH continued its descent from January and February, lacking the luster it showed when paired with MONK. It now has an NCIS lead-in. On the face of it, this seems like a strong start, but while NCIS pulls in some of the best household ratings in cable, it does not do as well on demo. BURN NOTICE finished up its strong season on Thursday the 4th with adult 25-54 ratings that were 5% better than last month's. With season four still in production, USA ordered up a season five and a season six for BURN NOTICE.
With these highly rated series ending their seasons at the beginning of March, month-to-month ratings comparisons were down. Each of their lead-ins, LAW & ORDER: SVU, NICS and HOUSE, filled in for the remainder of the month.
These "filler" programs continue to drive the network in real estate and ratings, if not in image and PR. Together they comprised 53 hours, or 63% of primetime. They are all down on core adult 25-54 ratings vs. last year, with HOUSE dropping a serious 27%, NCIS down 5% and SVU down 9%.
Beyond the finales, nothing was really working on USA this month. New seasons of original series will premiere in the coming months, and there are two new series set to launch in 2010. But those new series look a lot like the old series. USA has found its formula and is sticking to it. Will that be enough to carry it through the coming season?
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
USA is ready to give its audiences more of the same; COVERT AFFAIRS and FACING KATE are up next, and according to reports they are very similar in look and feel to the rest of USA's original fare.
Despite recent declines, don't count this network out. USA is quick to point out its successes with new series launches in the past three years. And in fact, most of cable experienced declines in first quarter. USA consistently tops the cable pack and the smaller broadcast networks, it's a matter of continuing its growth in a world where keeping pace doesn't cut it.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bonnie Hammer, president of NBCU cable entertainment and Universal Cable Prods. says that though drama has been the key to USA's success, she's been mulling over an evening chat show and the odd half-hour comedy. Either genre would be a significant departure from the proven formula.