USA Surges in Third Quarter

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One year after seeding its 'Characters Welcome’ branding campaign and replanting the World Wrestling Entertainment flag on Monday nights, USA Network is enjoying the ratings fruits of its labor.

During the third quarter, the general-entertainment network took the top spot among basic-cable networks in terms of total viewers (2.745 million), households (2.049 million) and the all-important, advertiser-coveted adults 18 to 49 demo (1.2 million).

Only tween-targeted Disney Channel and drama network TNT kept USA from running the table in the third-quarter rankings. Disney won the household crown with a 2.3 rating, while TNT tied USA for second with a 2.2 mark, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research.

USA Network president Bonnie Hammer said its character-driven mantra helped keep audiences tuned into veteran series such as Monk, The Dead Zone and The 4400, and brought viewers to its freshman series Psych.

“We really took our [Characters Welcome] brand and capitalized on it by embracing everything we do on air with spots that celebrate our talent,” she said.

She said the network’s risk of moving 5-year-old series Monk from its traditional 10 p.m. time slot to 9 p.m. to make room for Psych proved fortuitous for both shows. Psych finished its summer run with a 3.9 ratings average, while the venerable Monk pulled a 4.3 average mark.

“The strength of Friday night was incredible. The 4400 and Dead Zone held up nicely this summer, so we won Sunday night as well,” she said.

And then there’s the WWE. While the Monday Night Raw franchise didn’t generate the 5 to 6 household rating USA grew accustomed to in the late 1990s, Hammer said the show — which returned after a run on Spike TV — remains one of the medium’s top-rated shows and was a driving force in USA’s Nielsen ascension.

“It was a very different environment back then — there was less original programming out there. Kids weren’t on the Internet as much and into gaming as they are now,” she said.

Still, Hammer admits she would like to see the WWE franchise, which pinned a 4.1 household rating during the 2005-06 TV season, eventually average a 5 rating.

As for the future, Hammer said all of USA’s original series would return next summer, along with another new scripted series that will launch in third-quarter 2007. Additionally, USA plans to debut a new six-hour miniseries, Starter Wife, next July, as a lead-in to the net’s summer lineup.

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