USA Takes Sixth Straight Crown


USA Network donned cable’s total viewer
and key demo crowns in primetime for a sixth consecutive
year, but there were a number of other winners in the
medium’s top ranks during 2011.

The “Characters Welcome” channel’s combination of
original series, including Burn Notice, Royal Pains, Covert
and Suits, WWE fare and off-network shows once
again proved way too much for the rest of cable. However,
the network was essentially flat among viewers with 3.165
million on average, off from 3.166 million in 2010, according
to Nielsen data for the period Dec. 27, 2010, through
Dec. 25, 2011.

Disney Channel was second, up 3% to 2.65 million
viewers from 2.58 million, while ESPN ranked third despite
a 2% drop to 2.34 million from 2.40 million. The
worldwide leader saw cable’s top franchise, Monday
Night Football
, suffer a 9.5% decline in viewership during
its just-completed 2011 National Football League slate.

Drama proponent TNT slipped 1%, to 2.23 million,
from 2.26 million viewers. History, continuing the momentum
delivered by Pawn Stars, AmericanPickers and
Swamp People, grew an impressive 21% to 1.99 million
from 1.65 million watchers to finish fifth.

Fox News Channel remained well ahead in
the news sector, even though it lost 7% of its
viewership to 1.88 million from 2.03 million
in 2010. TBS, which has picked up some traction
with its Tuesday-Thursday night stacking
of off-net sitcom The Big Bang Theory, shed
10% of its audience, to 1.61 million watchers
from 1.81 million. A&E was eighth with a
7% advance to 1.56 million from 1.47 million,
ahead of FX, which scored a 20% jump to 1.53
million from 1.27 million, buoyed by original
biker skein Sons of Anarchy and neogothic
supernatural series American
Horror Story
, which just completed
its rookie run. ABC Family rounded
out the top 10 by edging up 1% to
1.46 million watchers from 1.44 million
in 2010.

Among cable’s top 25, History (21%),
FX (20%) and MTV (21%) all scored audience
advances of more than 20%,
with similarly robust double-digit
gains in Madison Avenue’s preferred
18-to-49 set: In that demo. History was
ahead 17%, FX 21% and MTV 22%.
Conversely, Nick at Nite, TBS and Fox News
Channel sustained the most audience erosion
among cable’s upper echelon, with the “very funny” network, Lifetime and Nick at Nite taking
double-digit demo hits.

Per usual, sports — led by cable’s all-time mostwatched
telecast, the Auburn-Oregon BCS Championship
Game, which tackled 27.4 million viewers
— ruled the ratings roost, capturing the first baker’s
dozen slots, 29 out of the top 30 and 35 of the
most-watched 50.

The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, which drew
a franchise-best 13.4 million viewers on a liveplus-
7-day basis, broke the athletic allegiance,
finishing 14th for the year. Coverage of President
Obama’s speech announcing the killing of Osama
Bin Laden, Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb
the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension
, 11 episodes
of MTV’s Jersey Shore and an installment of TNT’s
Rizzoli & Isles also managed to crack cable’s top 50
telecasts of 2011.