USA Nabs Q2 Ratings Victory

USA Network held off rival TNT to win the second-quarter ratings crown, averaging 1.37 million adults 18-49, an increase of 9 percent over its Q2 ‘08 delivery. Despite a five week stretch in which TNT’s coverage of the NBA Playoffs churned up record ratings for the Turner net, USA was able to hold on to preserve a 3.4 percent margin of victory in the demo.

The race for total prime-time viewers was less dramatic, as USA cruised to an easy win, averaging 3.17 million viewers, an increase of 15 percent year-over-year. USA’s Q2 delivery topped TNT’s 2.64 million viewers by 16.8 percent, per Nielsen ratings data.

USA also glided to another victory among the adults 25-54 set, averaging 1.47 million members of the demo, an improvement of 15 percent versus the same time a year ago.

For the quarter, USA posted its best program delivery with the season premiere of Burn Notice, which drew 7.5 million viewers upon the addition of seven days of DVR viewing. (The day after the show’s June 4 opener, Nielsen live-plus-same-day data had Burn Notice’s delivery pegged at 6 million viewers.)

USA also drummed up big numbers with a special commercial-free presentation of WWE Raw, which drew an average 6.78 million viewers on June 22 between 9 p.m. and 11:08 p.m. Hour two of Raw averaged 7.3 million viewers.

The quarter gave rise to the debut of USA’s newest original drama series, Royal Pains, which leads out of Burn Notice Thursday nights at 10 p.m. Per Nielsen’s live-plus-seven-day data, Pains drew 6.92 million viewers June 11; as such, DVR playback accounted for a 24 percent increase in viewers versus the originally announced 5.59 million.

In addition to its three second-place finishes, TNT won the 18-34 demo outright, averaging 645,000 viewers, an increase of 11 percent versus Q2 ‘08.

TNT enjoyed a huge ratings burst thanks to its NBA post-season coverage, which accounted for seven of the quarter’s top 20 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable. The Turner net’s May 26 telecast of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals drew a record 10.1 million viewers upon application of DVR playback. That delivery represents a 12.6 percent improvement versus the live-plus-same day total of 8.97 million viewers, putting the lie to the notion that sports are rarely time-shifted.

Game 4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Orlando Magic series drew 10 million viewers on the night of the 28th, while earlier in the week, Game 2 scared up 9.01 million viewers.

TNT also continued to draw a crowd with its original drama franchise, The Closer, which returned for its fifth season June 8. The season premiere stands as ad-supported cable’s most-watched scripted series telecast of the year thus far, averaging 8.45 million viewers, up 18 percent from the original live-plus-same-day reckoning (7.14 million).

Fox News Channel grew its nightly delivery by 34 percent, taking third place among total viewers with 2.13 million viewers, of which 518,000 were members of the core 25-54 news demo. FNC boosted its demo by 50 percent over the year-ago period, when it averaged 345,000 adults 25-54.

Like TNT, ESPN also enjoyed a lift courtesy of the NBA, as its Playoffs coverage raised it two notches to number four among total viewers. The sports net averaged 1.71 million viewers in prime, claiming fourth place across the board among the demos: adults 18-49 (827,000), adults 25-54 (812,000) and viewers 18-34 (419,000).

On the quarter, ESPN served up six of the top 20 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable, including Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which drew 9.76 million viewers on the night of May 25. Two nights later, Game 5 of the Lakers-Nuggets tilt drew 9.26 million viewers, and the deciding game of the series  delivered 8.49 million fans on Friday, May 29.