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USA No. 1 in cable for sixth straight year

History, FX, MTV also fare well with double-digit increases

Major ratings advances by History, FX and MTV weren’t enough to push USA Network out of cable’s top spot for 2011.

USA, which was basically flat for the year, was No. 1 in both total viewers and in the influential 18-49 demo, according to preliminary Nielsen data provided by Turner Research.

With the help of new series such as “Suits” and “Necessary Roughness” and veteran skeins like “Royal Pains” and “Burn Notice,” USA averaged 3.2 million viewers in primetime, about 600,000 more than second-place Disney Channel. In the 18-49 demo, USA drew 1.2 million viewers.

USA has now been best in total viewers, and the 18-49 and 25-54 demos for six consecutive years

As for top percentage gainers, History improved a healthy 22% in total viewers (to 1.9 million). Net has two shows among cable’s top 10 series: No. 5 “Pawn Stars” (7 million) and No. 10 “American Pickers” (5.7 million).

FX, thanks to “Sons of Anarchy” and newcomer “American Horror Story,” was up 21% in total viewers (to 1.5 million) and 22% in the 18-49 demo (to 869,000).

MTV rose 21% thanks largely to “Jersey Shore,” which was the most viewed series on cable in 2011. Snooki and Co. attracted an aud of 9.2 million viewers.

Other entertainment nets that saw double-digit increases in total viewers were Adult Swim, Syfy, Nick Jr. and Discovery ID.

Networks that saw double-digit declines among total viewers were TBS and Nick at Nite. In addition to TBS, entertainment nets with double-digit losses in the 18-49 demo were Lifetime, TV Land and Oxygen.

Following “Jersey Shore,” the most viewed series of the year were AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (8.8 million) and TNT’s “Rizzoli & Isles” (8.1 million) and “The Closer” (8.1 million).

In the 18-49 demo, the top five series were “Jersey Shore,” “The Walking Dead,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Pawn Stars” and BET’s “The Game.”

For the most-watched cable programs of the year, ESPN took the top 12 spots with its college and pro football coverage. The BCS championship game between Auburn and Oregon — the first title game to air on cable — was No. 1, attracting 27.4 million viewers.

The top NFL game on cable, for the current season, was the Sept. 26 Redskins-Cowboys contest, which drew 17.1 million. There was only one entertainment program in the top 25: the Aug. 28 “MTV Video Music Awards” (13.5 million).

Non-football fare that was widely watched included the Women’s World Cup match between the USA and Japan on July 17 (13.5 million) and a pair of primetime Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat playoff games in mid-May.

Among the newsies, Fox News continues to lead the pack in total viewers with 1.8 million in primetime, but that was down 8% from a year ago. In the 25-54 demo that matters most to the news nets, Fox took a 14% tumble.

CNN saw an 18% gain in total viewers to 694,000. MSNBC (769,000) saw a small 2% uptick. In the 25-54 demo, CNN rose 31% and MSNBC was down 2%.

For the kid nets, Disney Channel ranks best in primetime for kids 2-11 and kids 6-11. For total day programming, Nickelodeon is No. 1 in kids 2-11.