fountain of youth

This show just lowered the median age of USA Network viewers by 12 years

January 20, 2014
January 20, 2014

PASADENA, California—Modern Family has racked up viewers and accolades but now it’s achieved the seemingly impossible and turned back time.

After syndicating the show for under four months, USA Network says its median viewer’s age has fallen by a whopping 12 years, from 53 to 41. Additionally, 35% of the show’s audience are new USA viewers.

Those early statistics are encouraging for USA, which paid a reported $1.4 million per episode for the syndication rights to the show’s first four seasons, and launched the syndication run in September with a lavish marketing campaign usually reserved for original series. “When we brought Modern Family on, the whole idea was, how do we increase the reach of USA and bring new people into the fold?” USA Network President Chris McCumber told Quartz. “It’s already doing that and it’s only been on the air for a few months.”

The big question, however, is whether USA—basic cable’s No. 1 network in total viewers for eight consecutive years—can convince those new, younger viewers to stick around for its other programming, especially its upcoming push into more comedic fare. The answer will come in March, which USA premieres two high-profile projects: the Denis Leary-produced comedy Sirens about three Chicago emergency medical technicians (launching March 6), and the unscripted series Chrisley Knows Best, about a self-made multimillionaire and his family in Atlanta, which will debut March 11, directly after a Modern Family episode.

McCumber says his challenge is striking a balance between catering to USA’s loyal drama audience (with original series like White Collar and Suits, and hit syndicated shows Law & Order: SVU and NCIS) while also wooing new viewers with comedies. “Comedy is tough,” says McCumber. “You have to have patience.”

Modern Family initially aired five nights a week last September, but USA has subsequently shifted scheduling to the three nights where McCumber saw “traction”—Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturday night, where episodes feature Modern Family trivia questions.

Oddly, its success for USA hasn’t resulted in the typical “syndication bump,” meaning new viewers also start tuning into its broadcast home to watch original episodes. Instead, the show’s ABC ratings are down 21% compared to last season at this time.

But that’s ABC’s problem, not USA’s. Says McCumber: “We’re happy with where we’re at right now.”

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. 

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