Rivals Have No Shot at Unseating USA This Season

Comcast-NBCU net pounds out another summertime victory

Rival cable channels cannot conquer USA Network, they can only hope to contain it.

With less than a week to go before the sun sets on another summer TV season, USA has sewn up its sixth consecutive ratings win for the period, sweeping the key demos and outdistancing its competition by a comfortable margin.

According to preliminary Nielsen ratings data for the weeks spanning May 30 through August 21, USA averaged 3.61 million total viewers in prime time, beating runner-up Disney Channel by 839,000 viewers, or 30 percent. The network also coasted to another summertime sweep of the three major demos, averaging 1.49 million adults 25-54, 1.36 million viewers 18-49 and 574,000 viewers 18-34.

Summer-to-date, USA grew its overall nightly audience by 3 percent versus the year-ago period, while adults 25-54 were up 1 percent. Viewers 18-49 inched up 2 percent versus summer 2010 and 18-34s were off 1 percent.

Among all basic cable networks, only USA and History topped the 1 million mark with viewers 18-49. (History squeezed into the winner’s circle by a margin of 3,000 viewers; its 1 million viewers 18-49 marked a 33 percent increase from last summer’s 754,000.)

In a season of highly touted original series launches, USA introduced two of cable’s most-watched new programs, as Suits averaged 5.92 million total viewers through its first nine episodes, while eight installments of Necessary Roughness served up 5.47 million viewers. (Measurements for the majority of the series’ deliveries are based on live-plus-7-day deliveries, while ratings for the two most recent premieres is a reflection of live-plus-same-day data.)

According to the blended Nielsen data, Suits and Roughness also were was the No. 2 and No. 3 most-watched new series on cable among TV’s prized 18-49 set, averaging 2.63 million and 2.22 million members of the demo, respectively.

(While the cable researchers tend to talk up their L-7 deliveries, noting that the 7 days of DVR playback provide the most reliable sense of how an audience builds over the course of a week, the networks are credited only for three days of live/time-shifted viewing plus commercial ratings. That said, there generally isn’t a significant difference between the deliveries at the end of day three and day seven.)

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel took second place during the solstice, averaging 2.77 million total viewers in prime, flat versus a year ago. Unsurprisingly, it won with kids 2-11 (1.62 million, up 6 percent) and kids 6-11 (1.28 million, up 11 percent).

Disney boasted the second most watched program of the summer, drawing 10.7 million L-7 viewers with its August 5 premiere of the Phineas and Ferb Movie. (ESPN beat all comers with its presentation of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final; the July 17 USA-Japan match drew 13.5 million L-7 viewers.)

TNT was also flat in prime, serving up 2.55 million nightly viewers. The Turner network finished third among the two key demos, drawing 953,000 viewers 18-49 (down 2 percent) and 1.1 million adults 25-54 (down 3 percent).

The alien invasion strip Falling Skies gave TNT bragging rights to the season’s No. 1 new cable series, averaging 6.91 million viewers in its Sunday night time slot. Skies ran away with the two demos, averaging 3.74 million adults 25-54 and 3.29 million viewers 18-49.

TNT also got a lift from its new lawyer/buddy dramedy Franklin & Bash. The series served up 3.91 million viewers in the course of its freshman run, thereby earning itself a renewal. Forty-eight percent of F&B’s deliveries were time-shifted, per Nielsen.

History continues to be a ratings juggernaut, growing its nightly deliveries 38 percent to 2.26 million viewers, while upping its share of 25-54s by 34 percent (1.11 million) and 18-49s by 33 percent (1 million).

The network launched a new hit in American Restoration (3.61 million viewers, of which half were adults 25-54) and drew a crowd with three returning series. Pawn Stars this summer averaged 7.28 million viewers, trailing only MTV’s Jersey Shore (8.57 million), and TNT’s one-two combo of Rizzoli & Isles (8.05 million) and The Closer (7.93 million). Also putting up big ratings for History were American Pickers (6.01 million viewers) and Swamp People (5.41 million).

Rounding out the top 10 were: Fox News Channel (1.83 million/428,000 adults 25-54, down 4 percent and 9 percent, respectively); A&E (1.57 million/826,000 adults 25-54, up 7/12 percent); ABC Family (flat at 1.57 million and up 3 percent with 18-49s with 707,000); FX (up 20 percent in prime to 1.46 million total viewers/776,000 viewers 18-49); Syfy (up 9 percent to 1.36 million, of which 637,000 were members of the 25-54 set) and Discovery Channel (down 9 percent to 1.31 million/733,000 adults 25-54).

The top 10 new original cable series among adults 18-49 were: Falling Skies (3.29 million viewers); Suits (2.63 million); Necessary Roughness (2.22 million); ABC Family’s Switched at Birth (1.87 million); Franklin & Bash (1.82 million); American Restoration (1.67 million); VH1’s Single Ladies (1.53 million); TLC’s Extreme Couponing (1.49 million); FX’ Wilfred (1.46 million) and Comedy Central’s Workaholics (1.43 million).

Seventeen of the top 40 ad-supported channels lost ground this summer, and of those, six experienced double-digit declines. Nick at Nite took the biggest hit of the season, falling 22 percent in prime time with an average delivery of 1.26 million viewers.

Also enduring double-digit declines were: TBS, which dropped 21 percent to 1.22 million total viewers; Lifetime (down 13 percent to 1.11 million viewers); Bravo (down 13 percent to 849,000); ESPN2 (down 13 percent to 468,000) and Hallmark Channel (down 11 percent to 687,000).

On the other side of the axis, 11 of the top 40 networks improved their prime time deliveries by 10 percent or more. The biggest ratings improvements were from Headline News, which beefed up its nightly audience by 90 percent to 881,000; Investigation Discovery, which surged ahead 71 percent (558,000); VH1, up 42 percent to 662,000 total viewers; History, up 38 percent to 2.26 million viewers; Disney XD, up 24 percent to 421,000; FX, up 20 percent to 1.46 million viewers; National Geographic Channel, up 20 percent to 456,000 viewers; Nick Jr., up 19 percent to 909,000; CNN, up 13 percent to 621,000; MTV, up 11 percent to 1.03 million and BET, up 10 percent to 936,000.

Through August 21, ad-supported cable accounted for 75 percent of all viewers 18-49, marking an all-time high. Broadcast’s demo deliveries fell 7 percent from a year ago. This summer marks cable’s twelfth consecutive win over its network rivals.