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USA Analysis


USA's line-up is designed to make it easy for viewers to know when to tune in and what to expect. Schedule changes are slow to come to USA, and the net rarely makes a programming misstep. But change is afoot.

WWE dominates Monday nights and 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. Movies play a lesser role, filling programming holes and holiday-themed nights and weekends.

Original one-hour dramas are starting to saturate the line-up. They ran on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in 2011, with the series split between two seasons, summer (May-September) and winter (December – March). This year Friday nights are back in play, and USA is considering running series straight through the season instead of splitting them up.

USA’s long-talked about jump into reality and comedy will begin this year, and scheduling for the new programming genres will undoubtedly stir up the extraordinarily consistent strategies of recent years.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / January 2012 vs. January 2011 (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

JANUARY 2012: USA’s downward ratings trend followed the net into the new year as adult audiences fell to their lowest levels in quite some time. Hardest hit were male and younger audiences, with median age nearly two years older than it was at this time last year. While household ratings remained constant vs. January 2011, men 18-49 and 25-54 both dropped by 12% and female ratings barely moved. Compared to December, households and all demos dropped by about 10%.

There wasn’t too much that was up at USA this month. WWE is the standout, in a genre by itself among all the serialized crime dramas. In its long-standing slot on Monday nights, it seems to be DVR-repellent and easily rises above the rest of USA’s primetime fare. WWE is now consistently USA’s number one rated program, while in years past scripted original dramas would top the charts. Core men 18-49 ratings for WWE are up 7% vs. last month and down 4% vs. last year.

LAW & ORDER: SVU and NCIS continue to hold the bulk of USA’s inventory, dominating the rest of the week. With 71 telecasts between them this month, they comprised 68% of January’s primetime inventory. Compared to last year, ratings for both programs were off by nearly 20% on demos, and slightly less for households. But, both programs also pull some of the best numbers on the line-up. SVU’s program average actually tops all other programs among women 18-49. The problem is, these programs will hold up USA’s audience but they will not propel it to any substantial growth, particularly among male and younger audiences.

WHITE COLLAR and ROYAL PAINS were back for the second half of their third seasons this month on Tuesday and Wednesday at 10PM. Both programs’ adult 25-54 audiences dropped by 20% vs. last year. They also slipped vs. their summer runs when broadcast competition is less fierce and they enjoy scripted original programming instead of older-skewing off-net series as lead-ins.

USA has announced some changes ahead, including the possibility of playing seasons of original programming straight through, rather than breaking them up into summer and winter runs. In another change for originals, Friday nights will come into play again with FAIRLY LEGAL and IN PLAIN SIGHT premiering on Friday nights in March. Will those scheduling shifts be enough to stem the tide?