USA Takes 3Q in Demos, Viewers

USA Network nailed down yet another stellar ratings quarter, running away with the two major TV demos and drawing 3.26 million total viewers in prime.

For the period spanning June 28-Sept. 27, USA served up 1.25 million viewers 18-49, a decrease of 8 percent from its prior-year delivery, while sailing to another victory among adults 25-54 (1.37 million, down 8 percent from a record 1.56 million in Q3 ‘09).
Unlike quarters past, USA failed to sweep the demos, as a resurgent MTV stole the 18-34 crown with an average draw of 632,000, up a whopping 53 percent from a year ago. USA trailed in the younger demo by around 70,000 viewers, per Nielsen ratings data.
USA posted its best program delivery with the mid-season finale of Royal Pains, which drew 8.14 million viewers upon the addition of seven days of DVR viewing. (The day after the show’s August 26 airdate, Nielsen live-plus-same-day data pegged Royal Pains’ delivery at 6.08 million viewers. As such, time-shifted viewing raised the episode’s overall audience by 34 percent.)

Per L+7 data, Pains lead-in Burn Notice scared up 8.09 million viewers in the 9 p.m. slot, up 29 percent from the LSD delivery (6.29 million). Also drawing fire was freshman entry Covert Affairs, which drew a season-high 5.87 million viewers on August 24. With the additional week of time-shifted viewing, that number grew 35 percent to 7.91 million viewers.

TNT maintained second place among all ad-supported cable nets, drawing 2.55 million total viewers in prime, an increase of 7 percent versus the year-ago period. The Turner net finished second among adults 25-54, averaging 1.1 million (down 1 percent), while dipping 3 percent in its delivery of viewers 18-49, averaging 937,000.
The network saw its biggest decline among the 18-34 crowd, falling 7 percent to 340,000.
Seven episodes of TNT’s newest drama series Rizzoli & Isles landed in the top 20, while lead-in The Closer accounted for 5 of the most-watched programs on the quarter. The latter program drew 9.38 million L7 viewers, an increase of 19 percent versus its Sept. 6 airdate (7.92 million). On the same night, the penultimate episode of Rizzoli & Isles’ premiere run drew 7.24 million viewers in its 10 p.m. time slot; with L7, the show saw a lift of 29 percent (9.3 million).

With a full month of football on the books, ESPN once again claimed third place in prime, averaging 2.18 million viewers, down 6 percent versus Q3 ’09. The sports net won the silver with its delivery of viewers 18-49 (1.05 million, down 5 percent) while taking the bronze with the 25-54 set (1.07 million, down 5 percent).
Drew Brees and the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints helped deliver the largest cable audience of 2010, as week two of ESPN’s Monday Night Football drew 15.1 million viewers on Sept. 20. Through its first three MNF games of the 2010-11 NFL season––premiere week kicked off with a twin bill––ESPN is averaging 14 million viewers, up 3 percent from 13.6 million a year ago.

ESPN is also enjoying a lift courtesy of its college football roster. The network’s presentation of the Sept. 9 Boise State-Virginia Tech brawl delivered 9.9 million viewers, making it the second most-watched college football game in ESPN history. (Last season’s USC-Ohio State battle delivered 10.6 million viewers.)

Also drawing a crowd for Bristol was the Sept. 11 Penn State-Alabama grudge match. The Crimson Tide’s lopsided 24-3 pasting of the Nittany Lions delivered 7.15 million viewers between 7:10 p.m. and 10:18 p.m.
Fox News Channel dropped 19 percent in Q3, with an average nightly delivery of 1.84 million viewers. In the core demo, FNC fell 24 percent in prime, averaging 448,000 adults 25-54. That said, FNC’s losses were in stark contrast to those suffered by CNN. Finishing No. 33 among ad-supported cable outlets, CNN averaged just 513,000 prime time viewers, a decline of 46 percent versus the year-ago 949,000. (At that time, CNN was already contending with a 30 percent drop-off rate.)

CNN also lost nearly half (48 percent) of its 25-54 deliveries, averaging just 149,000 members of the demo in prime. Among the news nets, MSNBC’s shortcomings were the least profound, as total viewers dropped 13 percent to 693,000, while adults 25-54 fell 16 percent to 230,000.
History continued to repeat itself, climbing nine spots to close out the top five with 1.72 million viewers, a gain of 42 percent year-over-year. The net finished fourth among adults 25-54, averaging 882,000 (up 39 percent), and claimed fifth place with the 18-49 crowd, drawing 802,000 (up 37 percent).

On July 5, the 10:30 installment of Pawn Stars served up 6.34 million viewers, marking History’s largest crowd of the quarter. With a week of time-shifted viewing, that delivery grew13 percent to 7.15 million.

Rounding out the top 10 in Q3 were: Nick at Nite (1.65 million viewers, down 8 percent); TBS (1.52 million, down 5 percent); A&E (1.5 million, up 5 percent); ABC Family (1.37 million, down 1 percent) and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim (1.34 million, up 13 percent).

Among the core TV demo, the top 10 included the aforementioned USA, ESPN and TNT, as well as fourth-place TBS (down 9 percent to 873,000 adults 18-49). History took fifth on the quarter, tying the GTL-enhanced MTV with 802,000. The Viacom net’s delivery of the core demo marked a 46 percent improvement from a year ago. Meanwhile, Discovery Channel boosted its performance by 10 percent to 731,000), A&E was flat (700,000), FX slipped 8 percent (696,000), Comedy Central grew 25 percent (677,000) and ABC Family was up 4 percent to 646,000.

According to Nielsen ratings data, 10 of ad-supported cable’s top 40 networks notched double-digit ratings gains in the quarter, while another eight suffered declines of 10 percent or more. While the top 10 was relatively stable, with only History and Cartoon/Adults Swim growing by 10 percent or more, it was a mixed bag for cable nets that ranked between No. 11 and No. 40 in prime. On a percentile basis, the biggest gainer of the quarter was Nicktoons, which was up 64 percent in total viewers, averaging 370,000, followed by Investigation Discovery, which grew its ratings 63 percent with an average nightly draw of 356,000.

Also making great strides in Q3 were: TV Land, which was up 49 percent in total viewers, averaging 906,000; MTV, which improved 43 percent to 1.22 million viewers; and AMC (up 20 percent to 1.16 million). Three other big gainers were: E! (up 19 percent to 714,000), Comedy Central (up 15 percent to 1.05 million) and Bravo (up 12 percent to 950,000). Discovery Channel and Oxygen nearly made the double-digit club, as both saw their nightly deliveries grow 9 percent versus a year ago, with an average draw of 1.32 million and 491,000 viewers, respectively.

The seven nets that lost the most ground in the quarter were: CNN (down 46 percent to 513,000 prime time viewers); VH1, down 35 percent to 446,000 viewers; Hallmark Channel (down 27 percent to 722,000); Headline News (down 21 percent to 404,000); Fox News (down 19 percent to 1.84 million); Spike TV (down 15 percent to 818,000); MSNBC (down 13 percent to 693,000) and National Geographic Channel which fell 13 percent to 391,000 viewers.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel retained second place among all basic cable nets, averaging 2.82 million viewers in prime, down 2 percent versus a year ago. The Mouse maintained its hold on the core kiddie demos, averaging 1.18 million viewers 6-11 and 978,000 ‘tweens 9-14 in prime; both deliveries marked a 3 percent dip versus the prior-year period.

Disney’s most significant programming highlight of the quarter occurred at the tail end of the summer, as the Sept. 3 premiere of Camp Rock 2 drew 7.96 million Jonas Bros./Demi Lovato fans. When L7 data is added to the mix, the Camp Rock sequel attracted 9.06 million total viewers, an improvement of 14 percent from the LSD numbers.

Of the top 50 programs on basic cable in the quarter, 39 were scripted efforts. That said, the top seven programs were dominated by sports (ESPN’s pro and college football coverage, plus its July 8 LeBron James infomercial), an awards show (the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, which drew 12.1 million viewers) and the unscripted series Deadliest Catch. Discovery Channel bade farewell to Capt. Phil Harris on July 13, drawing 8.55 million total viewers in the Tuesday 9 p.m. slot.; with L7 viewing, that delivery swelled 12 percent to 9.61 million.