Updated: USA Cruising Toward ’09 Ratings Crown

USA Network is on track to deliver its fourth consecutive annual ratings victory in 2009, averaging a record 3.29 million viewers in prime time, a 16 percent improvement over its year-ago mark.
For the period spanning Dec. 29, 2008, through Dec. 6, 2009, USA swept ad-supported cable’s three top TV demos, averaging 1.5 million adults 25-54, an increase of 13 percent versus 2008, while serving up 1.38 million viewers 18-49 (up 6 percent). The NBC Universal net also held off TBS to take the younger set, drawing 613,000 viewers 18-34.

Should the numbers stand through the remainder of the year, USA will have shattered the records it set in 2008, when it averaged 2.84 million total viewers, 1.33 million adults 25-54 and 1.3 million viewers 18-49.

(When factoring in all basic-cable nets, this year marks USA’s second straight win among total viewers. In 2007, non-ad-supported Disney Channel topped the total cable universe with 2.7 million total viewers, edging USA’s 2.68 million in the same period.)

On the year, USA boasted cable’s two most-watched new series in Royal Pains (7.47 million viewers per week) and White Collar (5.68 million). Both programs also ran away with their target demos, as Pains served up 3.56 million adults 25-54 and 3.15 million viewers 18-49, while Collar averaged 2.29 million 25-54s and 2.04 million 18-49s.

USA also accounted for half of cable’s top 10 returning series. With an average delivery of 7.19 million viewers, Burn Notice closed out the year second only to TNT’s The Closer. That said, the wry spy drama topped the demos, averaging 3.61 million adults 25-54 and 3.27 million viewers 18-49.

Other big earners for USA were: Monk, which ended its eight-season run on Dec. 4 in front of a crowd of 9.44 million viewers; Psych, which averaged 5.21 million viewers in the first half of its third season; and In Plain Sight, which scared up 5 million viewers in its sophomore effort.

As has been the case for the last four years running, TNT and ESPN once again took the two and three spots in prime. The last time TNT won the yearly ratings race was in 2005, when the Turner net averaged 2.57 million viewers.
TNT in 2009 drew 2.26 million prime-time viewers, up 1 percent versus the prior-year average. The net put together its best demo numbers with the 25-54 set, averaging a second-best 1.11 million viewers, up 2 percent versus 2008.

Per Nielsen ratings data, TNT took fourth among 18-49s, growing 1 percent to 1.04 million viewers, while gaining 4 percent among the 18-34 set (459,000).

TNT carried three of cable’s most-watched new programs in 2009, including: Leverage (4.21 million total viewers/2.14 million adults 25-54); Hawthorne (4 million viewers/1.82 million adults 25-54); and Dark Blue (3.29 million viewers/1.6 million adults 25-54).

With an average delivery of 7.75 million viewers, The Closer continued its reign at the top of the original-series heap. On the eve of its sixth season on TNT, the drama took second among returning series in the core demo, averaging 3.2 million adults 25-54.

Third-place ESPN continued to show steady gains, growing its total nightly audience by 9 percent, to 2.22 million viewers. The sports giant took second place with viewers 18-49, averaging 1.07 million (up 6 percent), while improving its prior-year delivery of 25-54s by 9 percent (1.08 million).

Among the 18-34 demo, ESPN’s deliveries increased 3 percent to 516,000.

Thanks to Monday Night Football, ESPN owned each of the year’s top 10 most-viewed programs. On Oct. 5, Bristol broke the all-time record for a cable telecast, averaging 21.9 million viewers with its coverage of the MNF clash between the Packers and Vikings. Of that total, 11.9 million viewers fell into the 18-49 camp, while 11.8 million were members of the 25-54 crowd.