AUGUST 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:
* Bold denotes programming change
USA is extraordinarily consistent month-to-month and week-to-week, yet the network manages to keep the schedule fresh.
Off network dramas are the white noise that holds the network together with strips and three-hour primetime blocks. NCIS and LAW & ORDER: SVU fill that role. HOUSE has had less success at that job, and goes on and off the primetime schedule.
Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. The network has been playing with premiere nights for its originals. This summer season premiere nights are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays , with last year's strongholds of Fridays and Sundays left to off net acquisitions..
Movies still have a back seat on USA, with a diminished presence on the primetime line-up, although movie package purchasing is somewhat active, and the genre and its younger demos remain relevant to the network's overall strategy.
AUGUST 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / August 2010 vs. August 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
Another summer, another hit new scripted original drama and another season as the top ranked cable network. USA makes it look easy.... but wait, those numbers are down from last year!! USA admitted to a 5% viewership decline in MultiChannel News, but our live data for this August shows a 13% drop on household ratings and an 18% drop on target adults 25-54. While the net showed healthy growth from last month, each and every returning program took double digit declines vs. August 2009.
How could this be?
USA's execs admit their dramas might be at the critical mass stage (Jeff Wachtel in Broadcasting & Cable). In the 9/6 MultiChannel News, Bonnie Hammer blamed USA's off net acquisitions and also the rescheduling of original dramas to new nights (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this summer, vs. Thursday, Friday and Sunday last summer). There are a lot of imitators out there creating a competitive field, and USA's decision to move out of Sundays and Fridays was a defensive play, seemingly designed to hold back that competition. The network says it was done "for long-term thinking and long-term growth." Whatever the motive, the results are clear. USA maintains its leadership position, but ratings are down.
To put those double-digit percentage declines into perspective, the top rated telecast of August 2010 (the 8/26 ROYAL PAINS) would not have made the August 2009 top ten telecast list. It wasn't just the high rated dramas that took a fall. WWE dropped more than 10% of its core male audience. And to Bonnie Hammer's point, the off-net acquisitions were not as strong this year. NCIS not only lost 21% of its women 25-54 ratings from last year, it shared its air-time with lower-rated HOUSE, which combined, was probably the strongest blow to the bottom line. To add to the fall, LAW & ORDER: SVU weighed in with a 25% drop in its core older women audience.
Either way, USA, the network that wrote the book on launching summertime, blue-skies, scripted original dramas for basic cable is moving on. The network now schedules and launches programs throughout the year (FACING KATE launches in January). And in an even bigger move, they are looking to add both reality and half-hour comedies to the line-up.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
After perfecting its scripted original drama formula, USA is ready to expand its brand. What to do when faced with declining ratings? The network has decided not to play it safe by sticking with what works, but is ready to push some boundaries. New episodes of original dramas are now scheduled to run year-round, and new dramas are launched in winter and spring as well as summer.
But that's not all. The network is now in the half-hour sitcom game with the acquisition of linchpin MODERN FAMILY and the under-development project with Linda Bloodworth Thomason. And, Jeff Wachtel, president of original programming is looking to expand into reality programming, hire an unscripted development team, and have a new franchise on the air by next summer. "It's exciting but it's a little bit dangerous," Wachtel says. "What people tend to do is sit on their lead, and that's the worst thing you can do." (Broadcasting & Cable)