USA tops in viewers for 7th year in a row

Year-end cable ratings highlighed by 'Hatfields,' 'Walking Dead'

Above: USA was led by new drama “Suits,” which drew 4.5 million in the first telecast of its summer finale in August.

The year-end ratings stats offer more proof that top cable nets are facing some of the same problems as the Big Four networks. With so much competition out there, it’s hard for cablers to stave off audience erosion from year to year, let alone post gains.

USA Network ends the year as the No. 1 cabler in primetime in total viewers and adults 18-49 — a crown it has held for the past seven years. But compared to 2011, USA is off 10% in viewers (to an average of 2.97 million) and down 13% in adults 18-49 (to 1.09 mil).

TNT, FX, ABC Family, Disney Channel, Bravo, TLC and Syfy posted modest year-to-year declines in primetime. MTV, Comedy Central, Spike TV, Nick at Nite, BET and Hallmark Channel were among the established channels facing double-digit declines in both viewers and 18-49, according to live-plus-7 Nielsen data from Dec. 26, 2011, through Dec. 9.

AMC was among the year’s big winners, thanks to the boost provided by eye-popping numbers posted by cable’s top scripted series, “The Walking Dead.” AMC saw its 18-49 primetime average spike 11% (660,000) while its total viewer tally upticked 1% (1.19m).

The zombie phenomenon’s Oct. 28 telecast drew more viewers than any other series episode (14.1m). Among the top 50 cable telecasts of the year, nine were “Walking Dead” segs.

TBS also had a banner year. Buoyed by “Big Bang Theory” reruns, Turner’s comedy cabler soared 20% in 18-49 (1.06m) and 23% in viewers (1.96m). USA is undoubtedly hoping for a similar boost next fall when it begins airing reruns of ABC crowd-pleaser “Modern Family.”

A&E, History and Lifetime were in the plus column, with Lifetime notching a notable 14% gain in adults 18-49 (531,000). The presidential race boosted viewership at Fox News (2.03m, up 10% in viewers) and MSNBC (893,000, up 16%) and likely helped CNN (664,000, down 4%) avoid steeper declines. CNN sibling HLN, on the other hand, hit the skids with 30% drop in viewers (340,000).

Topping the list of all cable telecasts for 2012 was the Jan. 9 BCS championship football game, in which Alabama defeated LSU to take home the national crown, seen by 24.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched cable telecast of the year.

A week earlier, the Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and Oregon was the second most-watched college game of the year and drew 17.9 million. Both contests were on ESPN.

Off the field, History’s venture into scripted fare with May miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” was a massive success. The third installment of the three-part series garnered 17.9 million viewers, making it the highest nonsports telecast of the year.

Other than “Walking Dead,” the only series telecast to make the top 50 of the year list was the Jan. 6 finale of Disney Channel’s “The Wizards of Waverly Place,” which drew 11.3 million. Football, basketball and election coverage dominated the rest of the list.

Top series for USA was season two of “Suits,” which drew 4.5 million in the first telecast of its summer finale in August, and 6.5 million when live-plus-7 data is included. Network is also helped by “Royal Pains,” “Burn Notice” WWE wrestling and offnet dramas “NCIS” and “Law & Order: SVU.”

Among other nets that logged double-digit increases from 2011 were Discovery ID, VH1, Nat Geo Channel and OWN. Oprah Winfrey’s cabler is well into its turnaround with a 27% improvement in total viewers (326,000).

In the 18-34 demo, TBS was best with an average of 553,000 viewers, followed by ESPN (543,000) and USA (509,000). USA was tops in 25-54 (1.17m), followed by ESPN (1.05m) and TBS (1.03m).

Among children 2-11, Disney Channel ruled with an average of 1.4 million in primetime, nearly tripling second-place Nick Jr.’s 535,000. Nick at Nite suffered major ratings erosion in 2012, down 41% among kids 2-11 in primetime.

In the total day ranking, Nickelodeon (1.8m) remains on top with kids 2-11, but Disney Channel (1.68m) is closing the gap, despite falling 4%.

More TV

  • Olivia Liang

    'Kung Fu' Reboot Pilot at CW Casts Olivia Liang in Lead Role

    Olivia Liang has been cast in the lead role of The CW’s “Kung Fu” reboot pilot, Variety has confirmed. “Kung Fu” is a reboot of the original series created by Ed Spielman. In the new version, a quarter-life crisis causes a young Chinese-American woman, Nicky Chen (Liang), to drop out of college and go on a life-changing [...]

  • ITV Studios' Julie Meldal-Johnsen on New

    ITV Studios' Julie Meldal-Johnsen on European Series, 'Experimental Risk Taking'

    Julie Meldal-Johnsen, executive VP of global content at ITV Studios, said Wednesday that the company’s continuing move into European drama through its various subsidiaries was creating unique opportunities across the continent. Presenting the group’s upcoming new series at the Berlinale Series Market and Conference, Meldal-Johnsen spoke to Variety about local productions that are aimed at [...]

  • ABC News

    ABC News Suspends Veteran Correspondent David Wright Following Project Veritas Leak

    David Wright has told many stories during his two decades at ABC News. Now he finds himself at the center of one of them. Wright, a veteran correspondent who has reported from Beirut, Gaza, St. Peter’s Square and the Congo, was suspended by the Walt Disney-owned news outlet Tuesday after Project Veritas, a conservative organization [...]

  • 'Love Is Blind': Netflix Announces Reunion

    'Love Is Blind': Netflix Announces Reunion Special, Which Will Post on YouTube

    Netflix’s unscripted guilty pleasure “Love Is Blind” has quickly turned into a pop culture phenomenon, and the streamer is aiming to capitalize on that with a reunion special featuring the show’s cast. Here’s the twist: The “Love Is Blind” reunion special will premiere March 5 — on Netflix’s YouTube channel. That will presumably expose the [...]

  • Frank Doelger70th Primetime Emmy Awards -

    Frank Doelger and Mark Huffam to Produce 'The Swarm' For European Pubcasters' Pact The Alliance

    The Alliance, the pact formed by Europe’s top state broadcasters to counter the growing power of Netflix and other streaming giants, has joined forces on a high-end adaptation of bestselling environmental sci-fi thriller “The Swarm.” As previously announced, multi Emmy award-winning producer Frank Doelger (“Game of Thrones”) is executive producing the English language series via [...]

  • Macaulay Culkin

    'American Horror Story': Macaulay Culkin Among Those Joining for Season 10

    Macaulay Culkin is one of the stars set to join the “American Horror Story” franchise for its upcoming tenth season. Series creator Ryan Murphy announced the new and returning cast members via a suitably gloomy video posted to his Instagram, set to the tune of the song “Dead of Night” by Orville Peck. Two mainstays [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content