USA Network Sweeping July Ratings Race

Powered by a red hot lineup of original drama series, USA Network is enjoying a scorching summer season, sweeping the July ratings race with its deliveries of total viewers and the three core TV demos.

Per Nielsen ratings data for the period spanning June 28-July 25, USA averaged 3.13 million total viewers, thanks in large part to its quartet of homegrown series (Burn Notice, Royal Pains, White Collar and newcomer Covert Affairs).

USA served up its single largest audience of the month on July 1, as the fifth episode of Royal Pains’ sophomore season drew 7.01 million viewers upon application of seven days of DVR playback. This represents a 32 percent increase from the 5.32 million viewers who originally tuned in, per L+SD ratings. That same night, lead-in Burn Notice scared up 5.21 million viewers at 9 p.m.; that number jumped 30 percent to 6.78 million with a week’s worth of time-shifted viewing.

The new Piper Perabo spy thriller Covert Affairs also showed some impressive firepower, drawing 4.88 million viewers in its July 13 debut before going on to improve 7 percent the following week with 5.21 million viewers. Per L+7 ratings, the season finale of In Plain Sight drew 5.17 million viewers on Jun 30, an improvement of 34 percent from the original delivery (3.85 million).

At USA, only second-year strip White Collar showed signs of wilting a bit in the July heat. The show returned as the Tuesday night lead-in to Covert Affairs, drawing 4.29 million viewers in the 9 p.m. slot. The following week, Collar averaged 3.96 million viewers, dropping 8 percent. (That’s still well within the standard deviation of –15 to –20 percent for a second installment.)

On the month, USA took the key demos, averaging 1.3 million adults 25-54 and 1.17 million viewers 18-49. Both deliveries represent a 14 percent decline from July 2009. USA also won the 18-34 title, averaging 511,000 (down 12 percent).

TNT laid claim to four of the most-watched programs on basic cable, as season six of The Closer premiered July 12 to 7.66 million viewers. That same night, lead-out newbie Rizzoli & Isles bowed to 7.55 million viewers, retaining 99 percent of The Closer’s delivery.

The following week, R&I returned 96 percent of its premiere audience, as the second episode of the Angie Harmon-Sasha Alexander drama attracted 7.27 million viewers. That same night, The Closer put up some big numbers as well, drawing 6.97 million viewers, down 9 percent from its season opener.

TNT also drew a crowd with its coverage of Nascar Sprint Cup action and its original series Memphis Beat, Leverage and Hawthorne.

The Turner network averaged 2.51 million viewers in prime, down 4 percent from the year-ago period. TNT also took second among the two largest demos, dropping 10 percent among adults 25-54 (1.09 million) and 18-49s (1.02 million).

Fox News Channel closed out the month in third place, averaging 1.85 million total viewers in prime, a drop of 11 percent from July 2009’s 2.08 million. The news net finished 18th among the coveted 25-54 demo, falling 14 percent to 461,000 viewers.

History enjoyed the most substantive growth among all cable networks, improving 33 percent to 1.58 million total viewers. The channel’s Monday night tandem of Pawn Stars and American Pickers helped bring in viewers by the score, including adults 25-54 (784,000, up 27 percent) and 18-49s (710,000, also up 27 percent).

Pawn Stars drew History’s biggest crowd on July 5, as the 10:30 p.m. installment of the unscripted hit averaged 7.15 million viewers––good for sixth place on the month, and marking a 13 percent jump from the original L+SD numbers.  At 10 p.m., Pawn served up 6.97 million L+7 fans (up 14 percent). Lead-in Pickers was also a big performer in July. The Monday after Independence Day saw Pickers average 5.59 million viewers in its 9 p.m. time slot, per L+7 data, up 12 percent from the original 5.01 million L+SD delivery.

Nick-at-Nite retained fifth place on the month, drawing an average crowd of 1.57 million viewers between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., marking a 10 percent year-over-year decline. In total day, Nickelodeon once again beat all comers, averaging 2.3 million viewers (down 2 percent).

Rounding out the top 10 in prime were: ABC Family, which improved 2 percent to 1.55 million viewers; Discovery Channel, soaring 19 percent to 1.52 million viewers; TBS, down 1 percent to 1.51 million viewers; ESPN, up 11 percent in prime to 1.5 million viewers and A&E, which averaged 1.42 million viewers, for a gain of 17 percent year-over-year.

Tops among the core TV demo were: USA, TNT, TBS, Discovery Channel, ABC Family, History, ESPN, FX, Comedy Central and A&E. Four of the top 10 nets serving the 18-49 set saw their deliveries improve by double-digit percentages, including: Discovery (up 18 percent to 852,000); History (up 27 percent to 710,000); ESPN (up 19 percent to 706,000) and Comedy Central (up 24 percent to a devilish 666,000 members of the demo).

All told, July was a decidedly strong month for ad-supported cable nets, as no fewer than 12 players enjoyed double-digit ratings increases. On the other side of the ledger, nine nets endured declines of 10 percent or worse.

On a percentile basis, the biggest gains were registered by the Nicktoons and TV Land. The kid-friendly Viacom net grew its nightly deliveries 74 percent to 433,000 viewers, while corporate sibling TV Land rode the Betty White wave, spiking 69 percent in prime with an average nightly draw of 935,000 viewers. A year ago, TV land finished 33rd among all ad-supported cable nets; this time around, the net made a run at the upper echelon, closing out the month in the No. 21 slot as the new White/Valerie Bertinelli/Jane Leeves/Wendie Malick comedy Hot in Cleveland helped draw a fresh crop of new viewers. (On June 30, the third episode of Hot captured 4.19 million viewers, down just 12 percent from its record premiere (4.75 million).

Other big gainers were: Bravo, up 36 percent to 846,000 prime time viewers; Cartoon Network, improving 22 percent to 1.2 million viewers; GSN, up 21 percent to 335,000; AMC, growing 11 percent to 1.13 million; Comedy Central, up 11 percent to 1.03 million; and E!, up 10 percent to 673,000 viewers.

The greatest year-over-year declines were registered by: CNN, which saw its monthly deliveries drop 53 percent to 530,000 total viewers; Hallmark Channel, down 30 percent to 728,000 viewers; VH1, down 29 percent to 480,000 viewers; Oxygen, falling 23 percent to 386,000 viewers; Spike TV, off 20 percent to 775,000 viewers; Headline News, down 20 percent to 452,000; and Syfy, down 16 percent to 1.18 million nightly viewers.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel took second place among all basic-cable networks, averaging 2.78 million viewers in prime, down 7 percent versus the prior-year period. The Mouse maintained a comfortable lead among the kiddie demos, averaging 1.17 million viewers 6-11 and 951,000 ‘tweens 9-14. Both demos declined 12 percent from their respective year-ago levels.

The mouse enjoyed its biggest programming night of the month on Sunday, July 11, when Hannah Montana Forever bowed to 6.17 million viewers at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, lead-out Good Luck Charlie retained 88 percent of the Miley Cyrus crowd, averaging 5.46 million viewers. The following week, Sonny with a Chance drew 6.12 million viewers in its Sunday 8:30 p.m. slot, while the second installment of HMF fell to 5.4 million viewers. Sonny grew 13 percent from its HMF lead-in.