‘Suits,’ ‘WWE Raw’ Help USA Lead Cable Network Ratings

A&E, AMC, FX and History also shine in quarter; TBS leads in younger adults

WWE Raw USA Network

It didn’t feature any dynastic ducks, big bangs or ravenous zombies, but USA emerged the most popular cable network in primetime for the first quarter.

In a three-month period that saw AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” History miniseries “The Bible” and reality shows on several networks make a lot of noise, USA stuck to its knitting to win the first quarter for an eighth straight year. The net’s drama lineup, led by “Suits,” and three-hour weekly wrestling dynamo” “WWE Raw” paved the way.

According to most current Nielsen averages for Dec. 31, 2012 through March 31 of this year, the NBCU-owned USA  averaged 3.07 million viewers in primetime, on par with last year and comfortably ahead of History (2.61 million, up 12%), kids fave Disney Channel (2.58 million, up 4%) and TBS (2.18 million, flat).

This was the most-watched quarter yet for History, which saw big ratings for “The Bible,” a good start for scripted drama “The Vikings” and more hot numbers for reality skeins “Swamp People” and “American Pickers.”

USA also finished on top in its target demo of adults 25-54 (1.19 million), up slightly year to year, and was followed by TBS (1.17 million, flat), History (1.13 million, down 4%) and ESPN (941,000, down 9%).

Turner’s TBS, which is getting tons of mileage out of “The Big Bang Theory” repeats, won the quarter among adults 18-49 (1.19 million, down 3%), followed by USA (1.11 million, down 1%), History (0.97 million, down 7%) and ESPN (0.95 million, down 11%).

Among the quarter’s top networks in adults 18-49, those with double-digit percentage gains were No. 5 FX (913,000, up 16%), No. 8 AMC (765,000, up 35%) and No. 10 Adult Swim (754,000, up 15%). No. 9 Discovery was up by 5% to 760,000 and also had its best quarter ever in key male demos.

A&E was basically flat vs. last year, remaining in the top 10 for the quarter in total viewers as well as adults 18-49 and 25-54. The net’s Wednesday night blockbuster “Duck Dynasty” accounted for eight of the quarter’s top 16 telecasts in adults 18-49, with AMC’s “The Walking Dead” accounting for the others. It also did pretty well with new drama “Bates Motel.”

Among the notable nets having a rough quarter was MTV, which fell more than 20% in key categories and falling from eighth to 13th in the 18-49 rankings.

Also of note, Bravo was up slightly across the board, cracking the top 10 in adults 25-54; Animal Planet had its best-ever first quarter in all key demos; OWN was up a bit in total viewers (349,000) and off by the same amount in adults 18-49 (136,000);and lower down the rankings but on the rise was Velocity, which had its best quarter ever in male demos — moving ahead of the established likes of G4, NFL Network and the Weather Channel in men 25-54.

Fox News Channel remained well in front among the cable newsies in total viewers with 1.73 million in primetime (down 9% from last year) — more than the combined totals of MSNBC (755,000, down 8%) and CNN (590,000, down 22%). HLN, meanwhile, was the only news gainer, up 12% to 435,000.

This was Fox’s 45th straight quarter as the top-rated cable news network, and its “O’Reilly Factor” was again the top program (2.87 million viewers).

While FNC cruised in total viewers, the race was much tighter in adults 25-54 as the net was down 34% from last year to 279,000. MSNBC, meanwhile, dipped by 4% to 225,000. Third-place CNN (174,000, down 31%) joined FNC in posting big declines, while HLN was up 32% to 155,000.