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June 30, 2009

USA tops second quarter cable ratings

By Anthony Crupi

USA Network held off rival TNT to win the second-quarter ratings crown, averaging 1.37 million adults 18-49, an increase of 9% 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% 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% year-over-year. USA's Q2 delivery topped TNT's 2.64 million viewers by 16.8%, 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% 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% 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% 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% 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.

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