USA Analysis - September 2010



* 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 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. This summer season premiere nights were 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 will be 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.


Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / October 2010 vs. October2009  (% Change)




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Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

OCTOBER 2010:  USA made steps this month to recover from September, one of its lowest performing months in two years. The network's primary strategy was to minimize the under-performers, specifically movies. And while core ratings improved over last month with a 10% gain among adults 18-49 and 6% among the 25-54 set, ratings are still not back to last year's levels. (See chart above)

With no original dramas and only two movies running in primetime this October, NCIS and LAW & ORDER together comprised 83 hours of the primetime line-up. That's an overwhelming three-fourths of the schedule. Throw in the required two hours of WWE each Monday and five episodes of HOUSE, and that's USA for the month. And so, as the procedurals go, so goes USA's October.

Both programs continue to draw older female audiences, although NCIS draws more men, while LAW & ORDER: SVU draws more women. Compared to last year, they both dropped about 15% of their adult 25-54 ratings, and compared to September's dismal performance, they both gained about 10% on that core demo.

Both programs draw large audiences by cable standards, and help keep USA near the top of the ratings charts. However, they are both aging in more ways than one. Audiences are older and they seem to be burning out. Fortunately, USA has more drama on the way; in fact, there are six new original dramas that look like they will make it to air this coming year, more than ever. But it is the procedurals and off-net acquisitions that provide the backbone of the line-up, or the foundation from which those high-profile originals can build. More acquired procedurals are slated to hit the air, but not until next fall. USA will have to pull some slick strategies out of its programming sleeve to help keep numbers growing through the new broadcast year.


USA continues to maintain its leadership position, but needs some course correction. Never a network to sit back, USA is moving aggressively forward on several fronts. 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 what we notice is what they aren't. They aren't 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.

"Our creative team has done a fantastic job developing shows that live in our brand environment, and also push the envelope of audience expectations," said Jeff Wachtel, president original programming USA & co-head, original content, Universal Cable Productions, in announcing the latest pilot additions. "We're committed to building the next generation of hits -- and these shows hold that level of promise."

In addition, USA is looking to add both reality and half-hour comedies to the line-up.

The network is now in the half-hour sitcom game with the acquisition of MODERN FAMILY and a project with Linda Bloodworth Thomason. And, the network reports it is about to expand into reality programming, hire an unscripted development team, and have a new franchise on the air by next summer