USA Analysis - November 2010



* 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 comprise the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU typically fill that role. HOUSE has had less success at the job, and goes on and off the primetime schedule.

Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. The network has been playing with premiere nights for its originals. This summer season premiere nights were Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with last year's strongholds of Fridays and Sundays left to off net acquisitions and movies. USA's second big season this year is November through March, with spring and fall acting as bridge months.

Movies still have a back seat on USA, with a diminished presence on the primetime line-up, although movie package purchasing is somewhat active, and the genre and its younger demos remain relevant to the network's overall strategy.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / November 2010 vs. November2009  (% Change)




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Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

NOVEMBER 2010:  As we near the end of 2010, USA's ratings performance is truly a matter of perspective. From a basic-cable vantage point the network was number one again, pulling in the best household and demo primetime ratings in cable. Compared to itself, USA's bottom-line November demo ratings were its best since the summer season. Demo ratings held up vs. last month, with male ratings growing slightly. But household numbers are at their lowest level since September 2008, back when the US Open was on the air. Compared to last year, total primetime ratings are down across the board. Bottom-line, USA is still topping other networks, but is not measuring up to the bar that it set last year.

The move that most helped USA this month was taking HOUSE off the air. The only two nights to show improvements vs. last year were Thursday and Sunday, the two nights where HOUSE was running in November 2009.

Last November the original series airing on USA were MONK (in its final episodes), and WHITE COLLAR, both running on Friday nights. This year, PSYCH and BURN NOTICE are back for their mid-seasons, running on Wednesdays and Thursdays. With crime procedurals NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU as lead-ins, neither program did as well as either their summer run or last year's mid-season run. BURN NOTICE is up against both football and NBA in addition to the typically stiff November sweeps competition. Last year its mid-season eps ran in January, the more typical time frame for a point five season.

NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU and WWE followed the good news/bad news pattern of improving vs. last month but declining in core ratings vs. last year.

Movies rounded out the line-up, with the annual abundance of ELF (five primetime runs), helping the men 18-49 ratings.


USA continues to maintain its leadership position, but needs some course correction. Never a network to sit back, USA is moving aggressively forward on several fronts. Six new dramas have received pilot orders, its largest ever within one year. The programs (EDEN, WILD CARD, OVER/UNDER, COMMON LAW, NECESSARY ROUGNESS and A LEGAL MIND) are all dramas that fit within USA's "characters" mold. But what we notice is what they aren't. They aren't detective/crime-based dramas. USA seems to have turned the page on that book. What they do have in common is a strong vein of humor, a light note and a harmless, upbeat feel.

"Our creative team has done a fantastic job developing shows that live in our brand environment, and also push the envelope of audience expectations," said Jeff Wachtel, president original programming USA & co-head, original content, Universal Cable Productions, in announcing the latest pilot additions. "We're committed to building the next generation of hits -- and these shows hold that level of promise." In addition, USA is looking to add both reality and half-hour comedies to the line-up.

The network is now in the half-hour sitcom game with the acquisition of MODERN FAMILY and DRIVEN, a project with Linda Bloodworth Thomason. And, the network reports it is about to expand into reality programming, hire an unscripted development team, and have a new franchise on the air by next summer