USA wraps record Q3

Cable net averaged 1.35 mil viewers in 18-49 demo

USA Network wrapped up yet another record-breaking quarter, sweeping the three major demos in primetime and drawing an unprecedented 3.45 million total viewers, an increase of 21% 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% 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%.
 
USA also wrested the 18-34 crown from TBS, averaging 570,000, up 3% 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%.)

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% versus the year-ago period. The Turner net held onto third place among adults 25-54, growing 1% 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%.
 
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% versus Q3 '08. The sports net won the silver with its delivery of viewers 18-49 (1.11 million, down 1%) and 25-54s (1.13 million, down 1%), 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% 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% 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% from the year-ago 1.35 million. MSNBC also fell, losing 10% of its overall viewership with an average delivery of 795,000 viewers.
 


In the core demo, FNC grew 5%, averaging 589,000 adults 25-54. By comparison, CNN plummeted 39% in the demo, falling from 474,000 a year ago to 288,000, while MSNBC saw its target audience shrivel 21% to 275,000 adults 25-54.
 
Nick at Nite closed out the top five with 1.8 million viewers, a gain of 9% 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.

Rounding out the top 10 were: TBS (1.6 million viewers, down 9%); A&E (1.42 million, up 7%); ABC Family (1.37 million, up 6%); Syfy (1.36 million, up 1%) and FX (1.34 million, up 12%).

Among the core TV demo, the top 10 included the aforementioned USA, ESPN and TNT, as well as fourth-place TBS (down 5% to 954,000 adults 18-49). FX took fifth on the quarter, averaging 747,000 adults 18-49, up 10% versus the prior-year period, followed by A&E (down 4% to 697,000), Discovery Channel (up 7% to 660,000), Syfy (down 3% to 628,000), ABC Family (up 5% to 617,000) and Food Network (up a whopping 32% to 610,000).

According to Nielsen ratings data for the three months ended Sept. 27, 14 of ad-supported cable's top 40 networks notched double-digit ratings gains in the quarter, while seven suffered declines of 10% or more. All told, the top 40 nets accounted for an aggregate 3.65% increase in nightly deliveries.

While the top 10 was relatively stable, with only USA and FX growing by 10% or more, it was a mixed bag for cable nets that ranked between No. 11 and No. 40 in prime. The biggest gainer of the quarter was Food Network, which was up 35% in total viewers, averaging 1.22 million viewers.

Also making great strides in Q2 was TLC, which improved 33% to 1.07 million viewers.

On a percentile basis, other gainers were: Soap Net (up 21% to 381,000); CMT (up 21% to 375,000); E! (up 19% to 597,000); Travel Channel (up 19% to 498,000); BET (up 16% to 727,000); National Geographic Channel (up 16% to 445,000); ESPN 2 (up 15% to 696,000); HGTV (up 13% to 1.33 million); History (up 11% to 1.21 million) and WE tv, which saw its nightly deliveries increase 11% to 323,000.

The seven nets that lost the most ground in the quarter were: CNN, which fell 30% with 949,000 viewers; Hallmark Channel, which dropped 24% to 984,000 viewers; TV Land (down 22% to 607,000); Spike TV (down 19% to 951,000); Cartoon Network (down 16% to 1.18 million) and MSNBC, which fell 10% to 795,000 viewers.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel took second among all basic cable nets, averaging 2.89 million viewers in prime, up 18% versus the third quarter of 2008, when it drew 2.45 million viewers. Disney maintained its hold on the core kiddie demos, averaging 1.22 million viewers 6-11 and 1.01 million 'tweens 9-14 in prime; both deliveries marked a 14% gain versus the prior-year period.

Disney's most significant programming highlight of the quarter occurred at the end of the summer, as the August 28 premiere of "Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie" drew 13.5 million L+7 viewers, making it the most-watched scripted program on basic cable of 2009. With a week of DVR playback factored in, the "Wizards" flick––Disney's 77th original movie offering––grew its total audience by 18.4% from the live-plus-same-day draw of 11.4 million viewers.

Of the top 50 programs on basic cable in the quarter, 33 were scripted efforts. (In Q2 2009, a mere 16 of the top-rated programs were scripted.) Sports (pro and college football, in particular) accounted for the lion's share of the most popular unscripted programs on cable, followed by the indefinable hybrid of sports/scripts (USA Network's "WWE Raw"), competition series ("The Next Food Network Star"), and an awards show (the "2009 MTV Video Music Awards").
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