USA Tops 3rd Qtr., TNT Maintains Runner-up Position

USA Network wrapped up yet another record-breaking quarter, sweeping the three major demos in prime and drawing an unprecedented 3.45 million total viewers, an increase of 21 percent versus its Q3 ’08 delivery.
 
For the period spanning June 29-Sept. 27, USA served up 1.35 million adults 18-49, an increase of 6 percent over its prior-year delivery, while skating to another victory among adults 25-54, averaging 1.56 million members of the demo, an improvement of 15 percent.
 
USA also wrested the 18-34 crown from TBS, averaging 570,000, up 3 percent from a year ago. TBS trailed in the demo by around 37,000 viewers, per Nielsen ratings data.
 
For the quarter, USA posted its best program delivery with the mid-season finale of Burn Notice, which drew 9.1 million viewers upon the addition of seven days of DVR viewing. (The day after the show’s August 6 airdate, Nielsen live-plus-same-day data had Burn Notice’s delivery pegged at 7.59 million viewers. As such, time-shifted viewing raised the episode’s overall audience by 20 percent.)

All told, USA accounted for 23 of the 50 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable in the third quarter of 2009. Along with Burn Notice, USA also drew a good deal of heat with its freshman drama Royal Pains, which delivered its largest audience on August 6, averaging 8.2 million viewers in the 10 p.m. time slot.
 
TNT maintained the runner-up position among ad-supported cable nets, drawing 2.37 million total viewers in prime, a dip of 1 percent versus the year-ago period. The Turner net held onto third place among adults 25-54, growing 1 percent to 1.11 million viewers, while moving up a notch with viewers 18-49, averaging 961,000, good for a third-place finish.
 
The network saw its biggest growth among the 18-34 crowd, drawing 365,000 members of the younger demo, an improvement of 3 percent.
 
Six episodes of TNT’s original drama series The Closer landed in the top 20, including the July 27 episode, which averaged 8.88 million live-plus-seven viewers.

With a month of football on the books, ESPN claimed third place in prime, averaging 2.32 million viewers, up 3 percent versus Q3 ’08. The sports net won the silver with its delivery of viewers 18-49 (1.11 million, down 1 percent) and 25-54s (1.13 million, down 1 percent), and took third with 517,000 viewers 18-34.
 
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts helped deliver the largest cable audience of 2009, as week two of ESPN’s Monday Night Football drew 14.7 million viewers on Sept. 21. Through the first three MNF games of the 2009-10 NFL season––premiere week kicked off with a twin bill––ESPN is averaging 13.6 million total viewers, on par with its year-ago average.

ESPN is also enjoying a lift courtesy of its college football roster. The network’s presentation of the Sept. 12 USC-Ohio State battle delivered 10.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched college football game in ESPN history.
 
After posting a 34 percent gain in total viewers in the second quarter of 2009, Fox News Channel saw its growth begin to level off a bit, with an average nightly delivery of 2.32 million viewers (up 2 percent from Q3 ’08). That said, FNC’s slight gains were in stark contrast to the continued losses at rival news nets CNN and MSNBC. Finishing No. 22 among ad-supported cable outlets, CNN averaged 949,000 prime time viewers, a decline of 30 percent from the year-ago 1.35 million. MSNBC also fell, losing 10 percent of its overall viewership with an average delivery of 795,000 viewers.
 
In the core demo, FNC grew 5 percent, averaging 589,000 adults 25-54. By comparison, CNN plummeted 39 percent in the demo, falling from 474,000 a year ago to 288,000, while MSNBC saw its target audience shrivel 21 percent to 275,000 adults 25-54.
 
Nick at Nite closed out the top five with 1.8 million viewers, a gain of 9 percent year-over-year. The net drew its largest audience of the quarter with the one-hour iCarly movie, Shelby Marx, which scared up 8.9 million viewers August 8 at 8 p.m.