USA Network tops in quarter as many cablers slip

NFL dominates list while 'Crimes' is most-watched new show

The return of pro football dominated the list of top cable programs in the third quarter, while USA Network was No. 1 in total viewers and key demos.

And on a total-day basis, Disney Channel can claim its first-ever quarterly triumph over all other cable channels in total viewers, averaging 1.8 million viewers.

With a handful of original dramas back and WWE fare drawing a large male aud, USA has long been a strong summer performer. This now marks the seventh year in a row that the NBCUniversal cabler has won the third quarter.

USA averaged 3.2 million total viewers in primetime and 1.2 million in the 18-49 demo. Those figures were down 15% and 18%, however, from a year ago, as net was hurt by the ratings weakness of high-profile miniseries “Political Animals.”

In fact, eight of the top 10 networks were down in the demo. Adult Swim was flat and only TBS was up, a hefty 36%.

TBS, which was second in the 18-49 and 18-34 demos behind USA, continues to see favorable results from its syndie acquisition of “The Big Bang Theory.” New comedies “Sullivan & Son” and “Men at Work” also helped propel the Turner net. TBS saw big bumps in total viewers (1.7 million, up 45%) and adults 25-54 (just over 1 million; up 56%).

Other entertainment cablers who saw double-digit increases in total viewers were VH1 (768,000), Animal Planet (699,000), Discovery ID, (678,000), GSN (377,000) and OWN (304,000), which is recording viewer traction with “Oprah’s Next Chapter” and new series “Iyanla: Fix My Life.”

Those same nets saw substantial increases in the other key demos as well.

The quarter saw more losers than winners, however. There were many cablers down double digits in total viewers, including ESPN (1.4 million total viewers), Syfy (1.3 million), ABC Family (1.2 million), Nick at Night (948,000), MTV (863,000), Spike (806,000), Comedy Central (764,000) and TV Land (756,000).

The most-watched cable program of the third quarter was the “Monday Night Football” game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons. Wanting to see Peyton Manning return to a new team after an injury-plagued season, 15.5 million fans tuned in to ESPN on Sept. 17.

Four of the top eight programs were NFL games: the opening night “MNF” doubleheader — Cincinnati-Baltimore and San Diego-Oakland — were second and third, respectively, while the NFL Network’s Bears-Packers game was eighth. (That game would draw a much higher number if played today since Time Warner Cable was not carrying NFL Network on Sept. 13, but signed up with the league-owned cabler last week.)

In the top 10, TNT dramas dominated the non-football list. The series finale of “The Closer” was No. 2, garnering 11.2 million viewers while the debut of spinoff “Major Crimes,” which immediately followed “The Closer” on Aug. 13, drew 9.4 million.

In the 18-49 demo, the top programs after football were kudocasts the “BET Awards Show” and MTV’s “Video Music Awards.” FX made a strong impact with two episodes of Charlie Sheen comedy “Anger Management” and the season premiere of “Sons of Anarchy.”

In addition to “Major Crimes,” other new shows that fared well in the quarter were TNT’s “Perception” and “Dallas,” A&E’s “Longmire” and VH1 reality skein “Love and Hip Hop in Atlanta.”

For the newsies, all of which are getting plenty of attention because of the upcoming presidential election, MSNBC is up 10% in total viewers (869,000) while Fox News rose 4% and still dominates (1.9 million). CNN, which continues to struggle, was off 8% (617,000).

In the 25-54 demo, which is most important to newsies, MSNBC was the only cabler to see a year-to-year increase. The net was up 10% (280,000) while Fox News was down 13% (378,000). CNN fell 14% (189,000).

For the kid cablers, Disney Channel leads in kids 2-11 and 6-11 in total programming day in addition to its victory in overall total viewers. It’s down slightly while Nickelodeon continues to see a major falloff, dropping more than 20% in key demos. Cartoon Network was flat.