MAY 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.
MAY 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / May 2010 vs. May 2009 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
USA continues to pace below last year's performance, and this May was the worst month yet of 2010 for core 25-54 ratings. While household ratings are actually seven percent higher than last year, adult 25-54 ratings are eight percent lower...a disturbing trend. Accordingly, median age is up 7% vs. last year, the highest median age for USA since we've been keeping track (October '07).
At the heart of these older viewers is NCIS. "Cable's top acquired series" pulls in huge household ratings and really old audiences, by cable standards. Now airing an average of nine times per week, it has a bigger influence than ever on the rest of the line-up. It is also placed in key time-slots, leading into original series. While NCIS' household audience is about the same as last year, its core women 25-54 ratings fell 20%, It's pretty hard to cut back on a program that consistently delivers over a 2.0 household rating, but the demo stress on the network is creating cracks in USA's venerable ratings armor.
On Wednesdays, IN PLAIN SIGHT received a two-hour NCIS lead-in. Compared to last year the USA original delivered 20% fewer households and 42% fewer women 25-54.
LAW & ORDER: CI was the other USA original on the air, running on Tuesdays this May. With LAW & ORDER: SVU as a natural lead-in, the program was USA's top rated program on demo (outside WWE). However, women 25-54 ratings were off 14% vs. last year when it was running on Sunday nights.
Movies took a smaller role this month, after an increasing presence earlier in the year. There were just three movies falling within primetime this month, vs. nine in April. Their absence from the schedule was missed for their younger demo delivery.
And that's all there was at USA this May. With just five programs in primetime, USA had one of the shortest programming slates in all of cable this month. It is important to note that despite the demo losses and stiff NBA competition, USA continues to rein as the top rated cable network on core adult 25-54 demos.
CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:
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 build its deep bench of original dramas it also needs to provide lead-in programs that will provide strong demo support.
When does the tried and true become old and tired? It is a fine line to walk, and one that USA has managed with unprecedented success. But we have to ask, "How many more blue-skies, slightly quirky but very predictable programs can one network support?"
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 are up next, and according to reports they are very similar in look and feel to the rest of USA's original fare.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bonnie Hammer, president of NBCU cable entertainment and Universal Cable Prods. says that though drama has been the key to USA's success, she's been mulling over an evening chat show and the odd half-hour comedy. Either genre would be a significant departure from the proven formula.