USA Has Biggest Summer in Cable History

Each summer, a slew of cable networks send out press announcements proclaiming their “best summer ever.” Given the explosive growth of cable, and the lackluster efforts by the broadcasters during the sunny season, it is no surprise that so many channels higher up on the dial would be on the receiving end of the ratings rise.

For the summer of 2009, the biggest surprise was also the biggest network. USA, which has maintained a tight grip as the number one cable network in the country for years, had the best summer for any cable network since measurements have been kept.

The network averaged just over 3.6 million total viewers in summer 2009. That easily bests the previous holder Disney Channel, which averaged 3.1 million total viewers during the summer of 2007. B&C first noted the potential record in a July ratings analysis.

The network was boosted to its new heights by the surprise launch of Royal Pains, which quickly became a bona fide hit, while Burn Notice returned to become the best performing series in network history, ending with a bang. The season finale was the highest rated show in USA history, drawing 9.1 million viewers. Overall, USA is up 21% from last summer in primetime.

TNT, which has struggled over the last few summers, saw a few bright spots in the form of HawthoRNe and Leverage, both of which will be returning next year, while drawing over 3 million viewers an episode. The Closer is still cable’s top show in total viewers, though Burn Notice is giving it a run for its money. Overall, the network was up 8% from last summer.

But while TNT has been able to steady its footing, sister network TBS has struggled, dropping 8% year-over-year without a new, bona fide hit to rely on.

A slew of other networks have been breaking their own records as well, thanks to returning programs finding their groove, or new shows making an impact.

Project Runway is only two weeks in, but looks like a hit for Lifetime, as is its sister program Models of The Runway. Week two of the reality competitions series fell from its premiere to 3.5 million viewers, still up from its days at Bravo.

Bravo has been able to move on from Runway’s loss, boosted by its Real Housewives franchise. As B&C noted in a ratings analysis last month, each installment of the reality series seems to outperform the previous one.

Syfy, which rebranded from Sci Fi July 7, debuted its new name with record ratings of its own, thanks to new series Warehouse 13, which has become the most successful scripted show in network history midway through its first season. Each episode seems to surpass the last in the ratings, with the August 11 episode reaching 4.4 million total viewers when live plus 7 data is factored in.

ABC Family is up 10% from 2008, thanks to returning series the Secret life of the American Teenager (averaging over 3 million viewers an episode) and freshman series Make It Or Break It (2.3 million viewers for its series finale in late August).

AMC’s Mad Men has continued to grow over its second season following its 2.8 million viewer premiere, while the network as a whole is up 4% over summer 2008.

Other networks to post gains over 2008 include E!, Discovery, Oxygen, Science Channel, History and FX.