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USA Analysis - October 2011


USA’s scheduling, like its programming, is extraordinarily consistent, making it easy for viewers to know what to expect when they tune in.

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. HOUSE has had less success at the job, and goes on and off the primetime schedule.

Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. Premiere nights for original one-hour dramas lean to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the remainder of the schedule left to off net acquisitions and movies. Originals returned to Sunday nights this June, giving USA five nights of original programming. And Friday nights are being looked at again, according to Chris McCumber. The season for original programming has expanded as well. Once relegated to the non-competitive summer months, USA has continued to successfully expand its roster of originals, with new series and new episodes running nearly all year, with just a couple of bridge months left to fill. “We want to be a network that’s on all four seasons, and basically has a presence throughout the week,” affirmed Jeff Wachtel.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / October 2011 vs. October 2010 (% Change)

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

USA’s October 2011 schedule was very similar to its October 2010 schedule, and the ratings followed suit, showing minimal change. Household ratings for total primetime performed two percent lower than last year, while adult 18-49 and 25-54 ratings dropped by just one percent and three percent.

One of the few changes on the net was PSYCH. Last year it had a summer run plus a shortened season from November through December. This year USA’s longest-running original was bounced from the summer by USA’s other seven or eight original dramas. PSYCH’s sixth season premiered on Wednesday nights in October. The last time a new episode of PSYCH aired was the fifth season finale on December 22, 2010. How did the show hold up after its 10-month hiatus? Let’s just say that PSYCH took one for the team.

Core adult 25-54 ratings are 9% better than they were in their mid-season premiere month of November 2010. Ratings are strong, for a fourth quarter cable original. But as a rule, fourth quarter is the weakest for original dramas, and PSYCH’s adult 25-54 numbers were 21% lower than they were in August 2010, and about 15% lower than the January/February 2010 run.

PSYCH was essentially the loss leader, breaking new ground for the net by drawing viewers to October. PSYCH’s loyal viewers followed the program to a new night and a new month, but the timing hurt the program’s overall numbers.

Another difference on the schedule vs. last year was the absence of the lower rated acquired programs. Last year HOUSE was on the line-up, but the good doctor has not made an appearance on USA in months. CSI was on the air in September, but that program was missing in October 2011 as well. Both programs were at the bottom of the ratings rankers when they were on the air.

The programs that drove USA primetime this month were NCIS with 42 telecasts and LAW & ORDER: SVU with 39 telecasts. For those who are counting, that makes up 80% of the primetime programming. Both programs are barely holding, with NCIS losing 6% of adult 25-54 ratings vs. last year and SVU losing 5%.

The remaining components in USA primetime this October were WWE, which bounced back to normal levels after a few down months, and movies, which deliver strictly based on the selected titles. This month the net went female with The Break Up and He’s Just Not That Into You.

A trend to watch for in future months is the scheduling strategy for USA’s original dramas through the end of the year. Each of three dramas will be running on three different nights, making them dependent on the older and female skewing acquired network programming for lead-ins, rather than a scripted original program. We have seen poor results for USA when they abandoned the companion program strategy in the past.