USA Network King of Hill for ’09 Cable Ratings

USA Network made a clean sweep of the 2009 ratings race, marking the fourth consecutive win for the NBC Universal powerhouse. Per Nielsen ratings data (a blend of live-plus-seven-day and two weeks of live-plus-same-day numbers), USA drew a record 3.27 million viewers in prime time, a 14 percent improvement over its year-ago delivery.
For the period spanning Dec. 29, 2008, through Dec. 27, 2009, USA swept ad-supported cable’s three top TV demos, averaging 1.49 million adults 25-54, an increase of 11 percent versus 2008, while serving up 1.32 million viewers 18-49 (up 5 percent). The network also held off TBS to take the younger set, drawing 616,000 viewers 18-34.

USA effectively shattered the records it set in 2008, when it averaged 2.86 million total viewers, 1.34 million adults 25-54 and 1.32 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.

While USA held onto its perch atop the cable ratings pile––the network has been the top draw every year since 2005––TNT and ESPN once again duked it out for second place. Record ratings for Monday Night Football helped put ESPN over the top, as the sports giant averaged 2.3 million total viewers, up 8 percent from its 2008 showing.
As of Dec. 9, ESPN was still in third place, with an average nightly delivery of 2.22 million, trailing TNT by some 40,000 viewers.
ESPN also took second place among the two major demos, averaging 1.11 million viewers 18-49 (up 6 percent), while improving its prior-year delivery of 25-54s by 8 percent (1.12 million).

Among the 18-34 demo, ESPN’s deliveries increased 4 percent to 531,000.

Thanks to its weekly NFL showcase, ESPN owned each of the year’s top 15 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.
More recently, ESPN nearly broke its own newly hatched record, as its Nov. 30 Saints-Patriots telecast drew 21.4 million fans.
On the year, ESPN averaged 14.4 million viewers over the course of its 17 MNF telecasts, an increase of 20 percent versus the 2008 campaign.
TNT in 2009 drew 2.26 million prime-time viewers, up 2 percent versus the prior-year average. The net put together its best demo numbers with the 25-54 set, averaging a third-best 1.1 million viewers, up 2 percent versus 2008.