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USA Network Extends Primetime Ratings Reign To Fifth Year

 Another year, another primetime ratings win for USA Network.

The "Characters Welcome" network in 2010 made it five straight years as the most watched ad-supported cable network in primetime (Disney Channel, which is commercial-free, topped USA in 2007.) USA averaged 3.1 million total viewers from the period of Dec. 28 2009 to Dec. 26 2010, a 4% slide from the same period last year, according to a Disney-ABC Television Group analysis of Nielsen data.

Disney Channel finished second with 2.5 million viewers, up 2% from 2009, while ESPN posted a 4% increase to 2.4 million viewers to finish in third place. TNT matched its 2009 performance by averaging 2.2 million viewers to take fourth place, while Fox News rounded out the top five, averaging 2 million viewers, a 7% decline from last year.

The rest of the top 10 most-watched networks: TBS (1.8 million, down 3%), Nick At Nite (1.7 million, down 1%); History (1.6 million, up 35%); A&E (1.4 million, down 1%) and ABC Family (1.4 million, up 6%).

Nickelodeon remained the most-watched network over a 24-hour basis for the 16th straight year, averaging 2.2 million viewers, an increase of 1% compared to 2009. Disney Channel finished second with 1.7 million viewers, up 4% from last year, followed by Nick At Nite (1.5 million, up 5%); USA Network (1.4 million, down 7%) and TNT (1.3 million, up 6%).

Many basic-cable networks posted positive ratings gains, led by Investigation Discovery, which posted a 65% year-to-year increase, averaging 369,000 viewers in 2010. Other networks posting double-digit advances during the year were Mun2 (67,000, up 49%); History (1.6 million, up 35%); RFD-TV (136,000, up 33%); Nicktoons (298,000, up 28%); Science Channel (243,000, up 28%); TeenNick (215,000, up 24%); BBC America (161,000, up 22%); MTV (979,000, up 21%); Military Channel (154,000, up 19%); Nick Jr. (780,000, up 18%); G4 (154,000, up 18%); TV One (211,000, up 17%); TV Land (833,000, up 17%); NFL Network (258,000, up 15%); E! (678,000, up 13%); Galavision (163,000, up 13%); Oxygen (476,000, up 11%); History International (199,000, up 11%); Bio Channel (188,000, up 11%) and Bravo (874,000, up 11%).

A busy 2010 news cycle that included the closely watched 2010 mid-term elections couldn't keep CNN from sustaining a 34% year-to-year decline. Other networks posting double-digit declines include: VH1 (514,000, down 31%); Great American Country (61,000, down 26%); Hallmark Channel (858,000, down 26%); HLN (446,000, down 20%); Speed (228,000, down 19%); Golf Channel (119,000, down 19%); VH1 Classic (46,000, down 15%); SoapNet (302,000, down 14%); and Spike TV (922,000, down 13%).

Overall, 20 shows drew more than 10 million viewers in 2010, but only two were non-sports related: a Jan 18 episode of Nickelodeon comedy series iCarly (12.3 million viewers) and MTV's Sept. 12 Music Video Awards show (12 million viewers). ESPN's Oct. 25 New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys Monday Night Football telecast was the most-watched program of the 2010 Nielsen year, drawing 17.9 million viewers.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.