In the first quarter of 2008, USA Network grabbed an average 2.878 million viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen Media Research live-plus-same-day program data. The CW registered 2.239 million viewers.
Last year, CW took in 3.11 million total viewers to USA 's 2.76 million.
To be fair, there was a little thing called a writers' strike that messed up TV programmers in the first quarter--especially for the broadcasters such as CW. That said, USA wasn't running any of its original shows, "Monk" or "Psych," in the first quarter. USA will start up new episodes of those shows soon.
There are other differences to consider, says Brad Adgate, senior vp and corporate research director for media buyer Horizon Media:
"There is an inherent advantage that broadcast has over cable--they just go into more homes to start with," he says. "Then again, USA is a broad-based entertainment network versus CW, which mostly skews to younger viewers."
For advertisers that will mean little, since national advertisers are vastly different between USA and CW. They buy each primarily on different demos--18-49 and 25-54 viewers for USA Network and 18-34 and 12-34 demos for the CW.
Still, Adgate says it's a sign that some cable networks have come of age--just like a few years ago when Nickelodeon easily went past the broadcast networks when it came to attracting kid viewers.
Adgate also says this probably isn't the first time a cable network's prime-time schedule has beaten a broadcast network. ESPN in the fourth quarter, with its highly rated NFL football games, would seem to outdo smaller broadcast networks. Also, cable networks in the summer run higher-rated original programming against mostly rerun summer network programming.