The network has launched three original hits—Psych, Burn Notice and In Plain Sight—while continuing to draw a crowd with its signature series Monk
As a framing device, USA Network’s “Characters Welcome” tag may have stirred the scorn of USA’s rivals when it was first introduced three years ago. In the period since June 2005, when NBC Universal president of cable entertainment/cable studios Bonnie Hammer took the wraps off the new brand campaign, that scorn has likely turned to envy.
The network has launched three original hits—Psych, Burn Notice and In Plain Sight—while continuing to draw a crowd with its signature series Monk. Moreover, USA breathed new life into NBC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, assuming stewardship of the procedural drama in May 2007, while turning a miniseries––the six-hour Debra Messing vehicle The Starter Wife––into a full-blown series.
“Our originals definitely helped us to position ourselves as a market leader,” said Mark Miller, who, as senior vp of NBCU’s cable entertainment group, oversees ad sales for USA and Sci Fi Channel. “We’re seeing greater confidence in the buying community. There’s an understanding that you can buy top-tier cable and know that your investment will pay off.”
Per Nielsen Monitor-Plus data, USA pulled in $758 million in ad revenue last year, a gain of 5 percent over 2006. In this year’s upfront, USA was able to command some of the highest cost-per-thousand increases, securing gains of 10 percent over ’07 pricing.
Another advantage of stockpiling original fare is that ownership allows for much more leeway to develop customized sponsorship opportunities. Most recently, Saab USA sponsored the July 10 second season premiere of Burn Notice. Per terms of the deal, a Saab 9-3 convertible landed an extended cameo as Fiona’s automobile. With the success of USA’s latest drama, In Plain Sight, the network has launched and returned five originals since rebrand. Sight, which has averaged 4.67 million viewers since its June 1 debut, has been renewed for a second run of 16 episodes.
“Original programming is becoming a great investment for cable networks,” said Brad Adgate, senior vp, director of research at Horizon Media. “An original series can give you a real ratings knockout that can lend itself to higher sub fees and higher advertising rates.”