Nielsen doesn’t close out the year until Dec 29, but it’s a safe bet that USA will finish 2013 with its 8th consecutive win as the #1 cable net in prime for total viewers. Preliminary year-end data has USA averaging 2.7mln total viewers in prime (L+SD), ahead of Disney (2.4mln), ESPN (2.1mln), History (2.1mln) andTNT (2.1mln). USA’s reign is an impressive one, no doubt, but the biggest question mark remains WWE‘s "Monday Night Raw," with the entertainment company making no secret of its intention to seek big increases for TV rights renewals in the coming months.

"Obviously Raw’s numbers are in USA’s numbers. If Raw comes off USA, they drop down to 4 or 5," WWE chief strategy officer and CFO George Barrios predicted during a presentation at a UBS investor conference last week. Raw has averaged 4.6mln total viewers in L+7 ratings this year, more than USA hits such as "Psych," "Covert Affairs" and "White Collar."

Another factor to consider at USA is untested programming, with an unprecedented 8 pilots in production. The net has a pretty good track record in this arena though, as it’s home to 4 of the top 10 scripted shows on basic cable in prime this summer. Among those was freshman series "Graceland," which averaged 4mln total viewers. Still, like many of the top cable nets, viewership was down YOY. USA’s primetime total viewers were off 8%, while History was down 2%, ESPN 10% and TNT 4%, according to Nielsen data run last week.

Of the top 10 nets in prime, 5 had positive gains in viewers. AMC led the way with a 17% gain to an avg of 1.4mln total viewers in prime. Disney (+2%), TBS (+3%, 2mln), A&E (8%, 1.8mln) and FX (2%, 1.4mln) also saw audience gains. With just a few more days remaining in 2013, it looks like AMC’s "Walking Dead" will remain the #1 series of the year, averaging 14.6mln viewers in Live+7. That’s ahead of ESPN’s NFL Regular Season (13.4mln) and A&E’s "Duck Dynasty" (13.4mln). Also in the 13mln club is History’s "The Bible."

(This article first appeared in CableFAX Daily. Subscribe here.) 

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