USA Analysis - December 2010

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DECEMBER 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:

* Bold denotes programming change

SCHEDULING STRATEGIES:

USA is extraordinarily consistent month-to-month and week-to-week, yet the network manages to keep the schedule fresh.

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. The network has been playing with premiere nights for its originals. Premiere nights lean to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with last year's strongholds of Fridays and Sundays left to off net acquisitions and movies. USA's second big season this year is November through March, with spring and fall acting as bridge months.

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.

DECEMBER 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:

Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2010 vs. December 2009 (% Change)

HH

A18-49

A25-54

Monday 8-11pm

-4%

3%

2%

Tuesday 8-11pm

22%

7%

5%

Wednesday 8-11pm

-24%

-20%

-23%

Thursday 8-11pm

40%

32%

-33%

Friday 8-11pm

-29%

-25%

-25%

Saturday 8-11pm

-21%

-1%

-5%

Sunday 8-11pm

30%

0%

18%

MTWTFSS 8-11pm

-2%

-2%

0%

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

DECEMBER 2010:  USA ended the year with its second-best month of 2010. January pulled in the highest ratings of the year for women and adults, while December drew the youngest audience, the best men 18-49 ratings and the second-best adult ratings of the year. The successful December performance helped USA keep its top-rated basic-cable network crown for the fifth year in a row.

Household and adult audiences were at nearly the same levels last December, but there was a slight demo shift, with more men (+7%) and less women (-7%) tuning in this year than last. Part of the increased male viewing comes from an increased presence of WWE wrestling this December. There were six extra hours of wrestling, including two WWE SMACKDOWN shows on a Tuesday and two WWE ENTERTAINMENT TROOPS hours on a Wednesday. This comes as particularly relevant given the fact that USA is set to launch a WWE reality show in 2011. We are sure the USA programmers took note of the fact that SMACKDOWN on Tuesday handily outperformed the TROOPS programming on Wednesday. However, Monday night's regular WWE ENTERTAINMENT beat them both. Overall, wrestling programming continues to pop the numbers, topping al other programming on household and male ratings.

USA's deep bench of originals is helping the network spread the wealth throughout the year.  December is not just for holiday specials of original dramas anymore. BURN NOTICE and PSYCH came back in November and continued through December for their mid-season runs. This marks a slight shift in strategy, as USA usually waits until January/February for the point five season.

BURN NOTICE picked up momentum from its slow November start, growing male ratings by almost 50% and adult audiences by nearly 40%. Another good sign was the improvements it showed with each successive week, as audiences found the program and tuned- in in greater numbers. Compared to February 2010 (the last time it was in the second month of the midseason), numbers are slightly off: down 3% on men 25-54, down 6% on adults 25-54.

PSYCH did not fare as well. Demo ratings were basically flat vs. the slow November. Each successive week brought lower ratings, and compared to February core metrics were down by 20%. Average adult 25-54 ratings were the lowest among all of USA's December programs. PSYCH appears to be missing its long-time companion MONK. It has already been renewed for another season, perhaps USA can find another suitable companion for PSYCH in its next season.

Movies continue to be a big part of USA's December, with 24 movies running in primetime. Reminiscent of a certain holiday song, USA's theatrical line-up included nine Indiana Jones's, five ELF's, three Sex In the City's and Matt Damon in a Bourne Ultimatum.

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

USA continues to maintain its leadership position. The network demonstrated its deep bench this winter by successfully expanding its original drama window, and the bench continues to get deeper. Six new dramas have received pilot orders, its largest ever within one year. The programs (EDEN, WILD CARD, OVER/UNDER, COMMON LAW, NECESSARY ROUGNESS and A LEGAL MIND) are all dramas that fit within USA's "characters" mold, but they are not detective/crime-based dramas. USA seems to have turned the page on that book. What they do have in common is a strong vein of humor, a light note and a harmless, upbeat feel.

USA is looking to add both reality and half-hour comedies to the line-up. The network is in the half-hour sitcom game with the acquisition of MODERN FAMILY and DRIVEN, a project under development with Linda Bloodworth Thomason. And, the network reports it is about to expand into reality programming, with WWE TOUGH ENOUGH slated to be the first effort out of the box.

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