USA Analysis - November 2009



USA Primetime Schedule


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, and preferred nights for original series are typically Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. However, a new strategy starts up in January, with originals airing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Movies have taken a back seat lately, with a diminished presence on the primetime line-up, although movie package purchasing is somewhat active.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / November 2009 vs. November 2008  (% Change)




Monday 8-11pm




Tuesday 8-11pm




Wednesday 8-11pm




Thursday 8-11pm




Friday 8-11pm




Saturday 8-11pm




Sunday 8-11pm




MTWTFSS 8-11pm




Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

November 2009 was a mixed month for USA. Household ratings improved by double- digit percentages for five nights of the week vs. last year, but demo ratings are down. In a competitive broadcast sweeps month, numbers improved vs. October, with high single digit month-over-month ratings increases across the board. NCIS is strong, the new original WHITE COLLAR is solid, and movies did well. But USA is not without issues.

The primetime average audience was a full 5 years older this year vs. last, Median age increased by ten percent or more on five of seven nights. So, bottom line, while household audience improved by 14% vs. last year, adults 18-49 dropped by 8% and adults 25-54 dropped by 2%.  HOUSE is a big contributor to the older viewers, but it is not the only program that is aging the audience. NCIS brings a following of older viewers with it wherever it shows up (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday), and MONK has always drawn an older crowd. Movies and of course WWE are the younger programs on the line-up.

LAW & ORDER: SVU continues as a solid Tuesday night block this month, showing slight improvements vs. last month, particularly among women. The program is actually the best rated for the network among women 18-49. behind WWE.

Wednesday's NCIS block is a perfect illustration of USA's aging audience. While household audience was up by 42% vs. last year, adult 18-49 ratings were up just 2%, and adult 25-54 ratings were up 20%. The audience was 14% older than last year.

Thursday night's block of HOUSE shows across the board improvements over October, but the program continues to sit at the bottom of USA's ratings list, and it shows drastic declines vs. last year when it was a star on the schedule.

Friday night is where USA's scripted original dramas can be found this month. Out with the old and in with the new, as MONK enters the end of its eighth and final season, while WHITE COLLAR is in the first full month of its first season.  WHITE COLLAR lost its male skew and about one-fifth of its total adult audience from its October debut. The marathon run of MONK on a Sunday did not hold up to the network average, but the original MONKs that ran each Friday were strong, making the USA top 20.

We must be in the holiday season, because E.L.F. has begun to show up on USA, in fact, it aired three times in November primetime. USA has been backing off primetime movies, but is still running them around the holidays. In fact, The Game Plan made its USA debut this month, appearing 5 times - a rarity for the network. With a strong debut, it looks like The Game Plan might join the USA stand-by classics Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure.


It's especially challenging to break into the schedule for USA.  USA is all about off-net crime procedurals, NCIS, HOUSE, movies, WWE wrestling, and a slew of hit original series such as BURN NOTICE, MONK, PSYCH, IN PLAIN SIGHT and ROYAL PAINS.

USA continues to lead the pack in blurring the lines between cable and broadcast. They consistently try to position themselves against the broadcast nets, and in 2008/09 they met their goal of becoming the first cable network to harvest more primetime viewers, on average, than a broadcast network. They continue to narrow the broadcast/cable gap, even during sweeps periods.

But there is always room for improvement. The network is still trying to balance its male/female skew, and the audience is aging.. Top-rated MONK is near the end of its cycle, opening a hole on the scripted originals bench. Younger-skewing programming would go a long way towards refreshing the network.

What network President Bonnie Hammer looks for in original series is upbeat, blue-skies action thrillers and procedurals. "We don't rule out a bit of edginess, but you won't see anything that's dark or bleak." They tend to go for strong, quirky characters and stories, rarely non-fiction.

Not a network to let a bad trend continue, look for USA to do what it can to gain control over the rising age of its audience.

USA plans to air each of its scripted original dramas at 10PM its own night. This breaks away from the net's usual companion scheduling strategy. Is USA looking to capitalize on the drop in 10PM dramas created by Leno?