USA Analysis - August 2011



* Bold denotes programming change


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 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, 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 / August 2011 vs. August 2010 (% Change)




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MTWTFSS 8-11pm




Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

AUGUST 2011: August is characteristically the character network’s strongest month of the year. The signature blue skies dramas thrive in the summer, and the network usually hits full steam in August. Programming-wise, this August was no exception as seven original series hit the air across four nights of the week. And true to form, USA held its top spot among all of cable throughout the summer, with August putting forth the best- rated month year-to-date on women viewers. However, adult 25-54 ratings are down 5% from last year, and 22% from two years ago (August 2009) when the network was at its peak.

Ratings did improve month over month, with 6% increases over July. But it is clear that USA’s overall growth has stopped even as cable viewing is up overall. What’s happening? A lot of competition. There is the impressive rise of History with its own brand of reality programming bringing that network up to the number two spot in cable. And there are more scripted originals on cable’s air this summer with networks like Syfy, FX, TNT and ABC Family increasing their summertime dramas. Plus, USA itself was airing seven dramas this summer…how much drama can an audience watch? Apparently, only so much.

According to a ranking posted in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (see below), USA had the number two and number three rated dramas for the summer of 2011, but dramas came in at the bottom of the list. The top 10 was clearly dominated by reality. USA has proclaimed it is going to try its hand at comedies (which did not make the list), reality shows and long-form events.

Among 18-to-49 demo

1. Jersey Shore MTV: 5.3 million
2. Pawn Stars* History: 2.7 million
3. Teen Mom MTV: 2.4 million
4. Swamp People History: 2.3 million
5. WWE Raw* USA: 2.2 million
6. Deadliest Catch Discovery: 2 million
7. Falling Skies TNT: 2 million
8. American Pickers History: 1.93 million
9. Royal Pains USA: 1.92 million
10. Burn Notice USA: 1.9 million
* Including additional time-period airings, Pawn Stars and WWE Raw would have occupied No. 3 and 7 slots, respectively. Excludes programs with fewer than three telecasts.
Source: Nielsen live-plus same-day primetime DVR data from May 30 to Aug. 19.

There was more than drama on USA’s air this month, in fact, the majority of USA’s air remains the off-net acquisitions NCIS, LAW & ORDER: SVU and newcomer CSI. Together they comprise just over half of USA’s primetime air, but their ratings story is mixed, at best. NCIS remains the best-rated of the three despite its 13% drop on adult 25-54 ratings and 22% drop on men 25-54 ratings vs. last year. LAW & ORDER: SVU has been showing steady improvement over year ago, with a 16% gain on adults 25-54 vs. August 2011. CSI was not on the air last year. It remains at the bottom of the program rankers, and had some disturbing gowth compared to last month where household share grew by 32% while adult 25-54 ratings were flat.

The program that is most consistently at the top of USA’s charts is WWE. The franchise is slightly off from last year’s levels with a 9% drop in household ratings, a 3% drop on core men 18-49 and an 11% drop on adults 25-54.

Theatricals provide the last element of USA’s primetime (for now). The network continues to acquire a vast movie library from sister company Universal Studios, but airs only selective, proven block-buster titles. Movies tend to fall near the bottom of USA’s ratings charts, but they are key to helping the network balance its male/female ratio. This month’s big titles were Fast & Furious, Angels & Demons and USA favorite, National Treasure.


This summer USA kept its place at the top of the cable pack, if not all of its audiences. Stiffer competition and a plethora of primetime dramas seem to have put USA up against the ratings wall. The challenge, as always, is to hold onto the core audience while broadening out to attract new viewers. USA’s answer is to branch out into comedy, reality and event programming while staying within the vein of the USA brand.

In their recent round of interviews promoting the summer line-up, network co-presidents Jeff Wachtel and Chris McCumber gave some valuable insights. They are very conscious of where theIR programs are on the life-cycle. With mature programs such as PSYCH and BURN NOTICE, there is a need to continue to develop solid programming. While they talk about “pushing the boundaries of the brand” and avoiding cookie-cutter, formula-based dramas, the last round of programs didn’t stray too far from the mold of complex characters aspiring to make-good. The network is very conscious of its brand and the power it holds. Chris McCumber credits the brand with creating sampling opportunities and built in acceptance for new shows.

In a move announced this summer, USA will start a Public Affairs department in an effort to use the power of the media to make a difference in the lives of viewers. The unit will focus on developing and implementing all pro-social initiatives, creating cause marketing promotions tied to original programming. In concert with all units of USA, Public Affairs will continue to grow Characters Unite to include more extensive original programming, PSAs, content on, grassroots outreach and legislative advocacy -- all designed to inform, support and inspire audiences to bridge cultural divides and overcome social injustices.