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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 coming.

WWE dominates Monday nights and will take over all three primetime hours in July. 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 / May 2012 vs. May 2011 (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

MAY 2012: With only one night of original dramas this month, USA again faced double digit demo ratings declines vs. year ago numbers. Ratings were down vs. April as well, by a lesser degree -- just five percent. After a couple of years of solid growth, ratings peaked and are now starting to drop. Plans are in place to turn things around with new programming and new genres of programming, but for now the network is laying low and everything looks pretty much the same.

Most of the action on USA this May happened at the beginning and end of the work week. Mondays’ formidable wrestling franchise again dominated the ratings. On adults 18-49 WWE scored 131% better than the next nearest program. It is consistently the top-rated program on the net, even with SD ratings factored in. It used to come in second to the original dramas on female demos, but that has not been the case lately. This May, WWE lost about 20% of its women 18-49 ratings vs. last year, but was still 15% ahead of IN PLAIN SIGHT, 25% ahead of COMMON LAW and 60% ahead of FAIRLY LEGAL.

At the other end of the week, Fridays are now the night for original dramas. Friday was briefly abandoned when MONK left the line-up, but the net is giving the night another try this year. The series finale of IN PLAIN SIGHT drew 10% more adults than last month, although it was off by about 20% compared to last year’s season four performance. And so it seems like maybe it was time for out with the old and in with the new, and the new came in the form of COMMON LAW, another mismatched buddy crime show (in the vein of PSYCH and WHITE COLLAR). It took over IN PLAIN SIGHT’s 10PM time-slot. With just two outings, it looks like COMMON LAW draws a younger audience, and predictably (based on the male leads), is stronger with men, but so far household, female and adult 25-54 ratings are underperforming IN PLAIN SIGHT. FAIRLY LEGAL continued its second season in the 9PM slot, topped in the ratings by both IN PLAIN SIGHT and COMMON LAW. FAIRLY LEGAL’s ratings were down from last month by double digits across the board.

USA airs only the occasional theatrical these days. It ramps up a bit for the holidays in December and with some blockbuster summer fare, but in the spring months movies are few and far between. This month there were just four primetime theatricals. G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra was the best-rated overall.

That leaves LAW & ORDER: SVU and NCIS to cover the rest of the schedule. Together they filled 64 hours of primetime out of a total of 84 hours for the month. That is just over three-fourths of the line-up. With all that air-time, the two work-horses are still holding audience vs. last month. Compared to last year, adult 25-54 ratings are down by 10% for NCIS and 17% for SVU. Which, not so coincidentally, is not far off from how the whole network is doing.