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How USA plans to battle against time-shifting.

GRAPPLERS AND GOAL-SCORERS are key to USA Network's future. So are original scripted series--lots of them--with a handful of unscripted offerings sprinkled in for variety.

The leaders of NBCUniversal's flagship entertainment cabler are plotting big changes in the coming year in an effort to address the elephant in the room at this year's upfront presentations: The flight of viewers to on-demand platforms has put a big dent in ratings for most of TV's largest ad-supported networks.

At USA's April 7 media upfront presentation in New York, president Chris McCumber will outline a plan to battle back by arming the cabler with more live sports programming--starting with NHL Stanley Cup playoff games this month, and more WWE wrestling--as well as a greater number of original scripted series. Along with the increase in dramas will come an effort to shake up the status quo by addressing how, when and where those programs are made available to viewers.

"We have to think differently about what a 'traditional' rollout is for us," McCumber told Variety, explaining that means new windowing strategies. "Time-shifted viewing is the way of the world," he said, "so why not try to figure out how to take advantage of it."

USA is ready to road-test a plan to make multiple episodes of new series available on VOD at the same time the first one or two segs premiere. The August return of "Playing House," the buddy comedy starring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, will open with back-to-back episodes. At the end of the second, the stars will appear in a blurb urging fans to check out episode three immediately via VOD. USA plans to have the "House" stars, known for their improv skills, create custom ads for advertisers who step up to sponsor both platforms.

Meanwhile, McCumber sees adding live sports to USA's mix for the first time since the mid-1980s as a way to bring renewed urgency and reach to the network. The NHL games likely mark the first of several sports-rights deals USA will pursue in tandem with NBC Sports.

The cabler is also doubling down on the WWE, with the wrestling producer's weekly "SmackDown" showcase moving in January to USA from NBCU sibling Syfy. Thursday's two-hour "SmackDown" will join USA's three-hour Monday WWE mainstay "Raw." "SmackDown's" shorter format allows USA to use it as a launch-pad for a 10 p.m. show compatible with the WWE demo.

McCumber said the NHL playoff games would help increase the network's reach. "You have a new audience come through --a very passionate audience," he noted. "One of the most important things (programmers) can do is find passionate niches of fans and try to program and market toward that niche."

Among other initiatives, USA is working on a post-show for its comedy docu-series "Chrisley Knows Best" that would be hosted by patriarch Todd Chrisley. The cabler also is eyeing projects with Dwayne Johnson, producer Jason Blum and NFL commentator Jay Glazer.

Coming Soon

USA dramas on tap

* Mr. Robot (Universal Cable Prods.)

A hacker aims to topple corporate America.

* Colony (Universal Cable Prods.)

A family of resistance fighters do battle in alien-occupied L.A.

* Complications (Fox 21 TV Studios)

An ER doctor's life changes after he saves a drive-by shooting victim.


[twitter] @variety_cynthia
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Title Annotation:TV/PROGRAMMING; USA Network Inc.
Author:Littleton, Cynthia
Date:Apr 7, 2015
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