USA Analysis - July 2010

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JULY 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 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.

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.

JULY 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:

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

HH

A18-49

A25-54

Monday 8-11pm

-13%

-17%

-14%

Tuesday 8-11pm

56%

20%

26%

Wednesday 8-11pm

3%

-13%

-13%

Thursday 8-11pm

-8%

-9%

-11%

Friday 8-11pm

8%

-20%

-16%

Saturday 8-11pm

2%

0%

-6%

Sunday 8-11pm

-20%

-30%

-33%

MTWTFSS 8-11pm

-1%

-11%

-11%

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

USA continues to keep its number one or two position in the cable world, yet core demo ratings have been on a slow slide. The network that helped pave the way for scripted original dramas on basic cable AND practically wrote the formula for successful signature series faces an ever-increasing field of imitators. The result? This July we see USA's core women 25-54 drop to a two-year low, down just over 10% from last month and last year. An aging audience is also an issue, as the median age has hovered above 50 for six of the seven months of 2010. While household ratings are flat vs. July 2009, 18-49 and 25-54 ratings for both men and women are down between 11% and 13%.

Tuesday was the most successful night this July as the older skewing LAW & ORDER: SVU and USA original LAW & ORDER: CI were replaced mid-month with a new season of WHITE COLLAR and the debut of COVERT AFFAIRS. The LAW & ORDERs do their job of bringing in a large and loyal audience to USA, but the audience is primarily composed of older women. When the new programming moved in, household audience from 9-11P improved by 40% while adult demos jumped by over 60%. No word yet on a CI renewal.

COVERT AFFAIRS looks like another USA hit, as it consistently grows audience from its WHITE COLLAR lead-in. It also achieved the rare feat of improving week-over-week male audience from its much-promoted debut night.

On Wednesdays, older-skewing NCIS sets the pace in its back-to-back timeslots at 8PM and 9PM. At 10PM IN PLAIN SIGHT finished its run on June 30, with deflated core women 25-54 ratings vs. last month (-8%) and last year (-23%). IN PLAIN SIGHT was not able to build on lead-in NCIS' household or demo audience. PSYCH moved in for its sixth season on the 14th with improved ratings and better audience composition over IN PLAIN SIGHT, building men and women 18-49 audiences vs. the NCIS lead-in. 

Thursdays were all about BURN NOTICE and ROYAL PAINS, which also received an 8PM NCIS lead-in. After WWE, both programs produce USA's top ratings for adults 18-49 and 25-54. Keeping its eye on the big prize, USA's PR department likes to rise above the cable fray and compare its Thursday night line-up to the broadcast nets, and reports that BURN NOTICE and ROYAL PAINS "consistently top or challenge" the broadcast fare. But who would we be if we left it at that? Looking at the year-to-year numbers for premiere telecasts, BURN NOTICE has dropped about 10% of its audience while ROYAL PAINS is delivering ratings that are nearly 20% lower than last year.

Fridays and Sundays show steep declines vs. both last year and last month (about 20% on adult demos), due to changes in the line-up (no more original dramas on Sundays), lower performing movie titles (no blockbuster Bournes or National Treasures), and a lower performance from NCIS.

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

Has USA reached its drama peak? The proverbial summer ratings bump has been flattened with increased competition. USA is now programming new episodes of multiple original series throughout the year, but that is still not enough to stay ahead of the pack. After years of remaining loyal to the blue-skies, slightly quirky, yet always safe detective drama formula, USA execs are hard at work redefining the mix, opening up the network to new genres (comedy and reality) and new formats (half hours).

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. USA will undoubtedly use acquisitions to support its original comedies, just as it did with its original dramas.

Broadcasting & Cable ("Top-Rated USA Looks Beyond Dramatic Success" by Marisa Guthrie, 7/26/10) reports that Jeff Wachtel, president of original programming is looking to further 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."

The network is also open to limited-series, where it has had mixed success before (THE STARTER WIFE, THE 4400).

"We were certainly pioneers in original programming on cable," Wachtel points out. "Now we have a sustainable critical mass of one-hours. At some point, you want to take the approach that you bring to new projects and move that unified vision to approaching new genres. As we look to grow USA beyond being simply the No. 1 cable network to being a leading entertainment brand, period, you need to expand your horizons."

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