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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 + Same Day Primetime Ratings Comparison / April 2012 vs. April 2011 (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

APRIL 2012: After months of hitting the ratings wall and posting stagnant numbers, USA’s primetime ratings have begun to drop. Compared to both last year and last month, April brought declines that hover near the 10% mark – vs. last year women ratings are down 8% while adult ratings are down by 12%. Compared to month ago and year ago, there was not much that was up.

Taking a look a closer look at the night by night performance, Mondays’ WWE wrestling remains the best rated program on the net, by an increasing margin. And that is with a 12% ratings decline among core men 18-49 vs. last year. This July WWE will air its 1000th episode, and will mark the occasion by expanding to a three- hour block on USA every Monday night. Right now NCIS serves as the 8PM lead-in.

Tuesdays in April again featured a three-hour block of LAW & ORDER: SVU.  The program pulls the lowest ratings on the line-up among men, and male ratings are one-third lower than they were this time last year…but men have never been the core audience for the off-net procedural. Older women make up the bulk of its audience, and their ratings are off by about 10% vs. last year.

Wednesday nights featured a double run of NCIS leading into new episodes of PSYCH’s sixth season. Averaging eight runs per week, NCIS ratings are off by about 20% vs. last month and 10% vs. last year. Its strength is the volume of households it draws to the network. When ranked on household ratings, NCIS drew the 12th through the 19th top rated telecasts. However, the program does not perform as well on demo as the USA originals. While  NCIS handily tops PSYCH on households, PSYCH pulls a much younger audience and easily tops NCIS on demo. PSYCH and USA’s other originals also come out ahead with time-shifted viewers. While NCIS and LAW & ORDER:SVU get about a 3% lift from same day viewing, PSYCH, FAIRLY LEGAL and IN PLAIN SIGHT get about a 20% to 40% lift.

Thursdays were given over entirely to NCIS again this month. On Fridays LAW & ORDER: SVU leads into FAIRLY LEGAL in its second season, followed by IN PLAIN SIGHT, in its fifth and final season. Friday nights are performing well for USA. Both originals have a strong following, and the night is lacking serious competition – most programmers don’t schedule their best on Friday nights. In fact, Friday was the only night to show any audience gain vs. last month.

Weekends were lackluster this month. With the same mix of LAW & ORDER: SVU, NCIS and movies, nothing popped the numbers and viewing was down…off by 15%-20% vs. month ago and year ago.