JUNE 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 has been taken off the primetime schedule again.
Other than that, WWE always runs on Monday nights. The network has been playing with premiere nights for its originals. This year premiere nights are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. USA seems to have abandoned its mid-season strategy of airing originals alone, without a companion series.
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.
JUNE 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / June 2010 vs. June 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
This June, USA continued its recent trend of keeping pace on household ratings while losing core demo audiences. While household audiences reached last year's highs, core adult 25-54 ratings were down by 14%, with men 25-54 off by 19%. The median audience age reached an all-time high this month, nearly 4 years older than June 2009's audience.
Of course the good news is that this is USA we're talking about, and the overall ratings, with a few exceptions, are generally the best in cable. With BURN NOTICE and ROYAL PAINS joining the line-up, there were plenty of success stories to go around.
Starting at the beginning of the week, WWE's core men 18-49 audience slipped a bit - down 19% vs. last year and 4% vs. last month. Fitting in with the overall trend at the network, household losses were slightly smaller.
On Tuesdays, LAW & ORDER: CI (ORIG) held core women audiences vs. last month, but is still down significantly (-19%) from last year when it ran on Sunday nights. LAW & ORDER: CI and its lead-in LAW & ORDER were the two lowest performers for women 25-54. No word on a renewal.
Wednesdays and Fridays were dominated by NCIS. This program is the ultimate programmer's dilemma. It fits nicely into the USA crimesolving mold, and consistently delivers over a 2.0 household rating. But it also delivers an older audience, even by cable standards, and it is getting older. Compared to last June the program lost 11% of its household ratings and 24% of its adult ratings. While there is a place for NCIS on the schedule, it is not the ideal program to lead into one of USA's original dramas.
IN PLAIN SIGHT finds itself in just that position this year on Wednesday nights. Demo performance vs. last year is off by just 5% among households, but down a significant 15% among adults. The good news for IN PLAIN SIGHT is the marked improvement it shows over last month -- +18% on households and +23% on adults 25-54.
Thursdays were the big night at USA, landing the best household and women ratings of the week (Monday's WWE still rules with men). BURN NOTICE and ROYAL PAINS were back with new seasons.
The premiere of BURN NOTICE was the top-rated telecast of the month on USA. In its second week (when BURN NOTICE started getting an NCIS lead-in), ROYAL PAINS overtook BURN NOTICE in the ratings and held that lead for the rest of the month. Compared to last year's performance, both programs dropped 20% of their men 18-49 ratings, and less than 10% of their core women 25-54 ratings.
USA acquired the rights to start airing NCIS: LA in September 2011. However, there were a couple of sneak peaks of the program on USA's air the last two Sundays of June. NCIS: LA ran at 9PM one week and 10PM the next, with NCIS airing in the other two hours. NCIS: LA pulled in the lower ratings both weeks.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
The network has found a successful formula for originals, and is ready to give its audiences more of the same; COVERT AFFAIRS and FACING KATE, this year's new dramas, are very similar in look and feel to the rest of USA's original fare.
USA continues as the ratings leader in basic cable, but the network does need to keep an eye on the age of its audience. As it continues to builds its deep bench of original dramas it also needs to provide lead-in programs that will provide strong demo support. The demo stress created by NCIS. "Cable's top acquired series," is creating cracks in USA's venerable ratings. But, just when we start to find a chink in the armor, USA pulls a surprise out of its programming hat. MODERN FAMILY, a younger skewing, fresh comedy that breaks the mold of USA's typical fare, yet still fits within the "Characters Welcome" mantra, was acquired from Twentieth TV. Can MODERN FAMILY work its magic twice? The sitcom doesn't hit USA's air until Fall of 2013....USA can use some more demo help in the meantime as it work towards finding a fresh, comedic companion.