I’m happy Burn Notice is coming back tonight, but it airs against Person of Interest. No problem for me, I have a DVR! But half of the viewers don’t have DVRs and it seems crazy to me to bring back Burn Notice back in November only to air it against Person of Interest which appeals to the same type of audience. I looked at the numbers for last fall when it also aired against Person of Interest and the numbers were much lower than the summer run. Why would they do that?
I’m not really sure of the crossover between the two shows -- I like them both too, but that doesn’t mean anything. But for what it's worth, in its fall/winter run, I think Burn Notice will mostly air against Elementary. Because tonight's fall Burn Notice premiere is two-hours it's also airing against Person of Interest.
What I am sure of is that for USA shows, the “in-season” (against broadcast network originals) are almost always noticeably lower than the summer airings regardless of the show or its competition on the broadcast and other cable networks. If you had looked back prior to last year you’d have noticed a mostly similar trend for Burn Notice in terms of fall/winter vs. summer runs and that was before Person of Interest was a glimmer in CBS’s eyes.
So I’m going to convert your question into something more generic: “Why does USA even bother airing originals during the broadcast network regular season since ratings are typically noticeably better in the summer?”
My guess is it mostly boils down to one thing: advertising sales. For one, generically, there are a lot of advertising dollars put against the regular season and it’s harder to ensnare your fair share of them if you don’t have any original programming to offer. Also, there’s a particularly large amount of advertising dollars out there heading into, and just past the holiday season. As a result, advertising rates are probably higher in general which may more than offset the lower ratings vs. summer airings. Whatever the case it’s clear that USA makes (or at least projects it will make) more total advertising revenue for the year by airing some originals during the regular broadcast season instead of airing them all in the summer.