SA Network (on-air simply as USA, stylized as usa since 2005) is an American basic cable channel owned by the NBCUniversal Television and Streaming division of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. It was originally launched in 1977 as Madison Square Garden Sports Network, one of the first national sports cable television channels, before being relaunched as USA Network in 1980. Once a minor player in basic-tier pay television, USA has steadily gained popularity due to its original programming; it is one of four major subscription-television networks (with TBS, TNT and FX) that also broadcasts syndicated reruns of current and former network television series and theatrically-released feature films, as well as limited sports programming and WWE.
As of September 2018, USA Network is commercially available to about 90.4 million households (98% of households with pay television) in the US.
SA Network originally launched on September 22, 1977 as the Madison Square Garden Sports Network (not to be confused with the New York City-area regional sports network of the same name now simply known as the MSG Network). The network was founded by cable provider UA-Columbia Cablevision and Kay Koplovitz. The channel was one of the first national cable television channels, utilizing satellite delivery as opposed to the then-industry standard microwave relay to distribute its programming to cable systems. Initially, the network ran a mix of college and less well-known professional sports, similar to those found during the early years of ESPN. The channel began its broadcast day after 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on weekdays and 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on weekends.
On April 9, 1980, the channel changed its name to USA Network after the ownership structure was reorganized under a joint operating agreement by UA-Columbia and the then-MCA Inc./Universal City Studios. That fall, USA began signing on at noon Eastern Time on weekdays; it also added some talk shows and a children's program called Calliope to its schedule. Sports programming began airing at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time weekdays, and aired all day on weekends. In the fall of 1981, USA began its daily programming at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time, with talk shows and children's programs running until noon, sports airing from noon onward during weekends and until 3:00 p.m. weekdays, talk shows from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. weekdays, and sports airing again after 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Later, in 1982, Time Inc. and Gulf+Western's Paramount Pictures unit (now part of ViacomCBS) would buy stakes in the venture. The three partners had a non-compete clause that would prevent them from owning other basic cable networks independently from the USA joint venture, but the said clause would cause Time Inc. to drop out of the venture in 1987, as the company attempted (but failed) to buy CNN from Ted Turner and run it independently from USA. MCA and Paramount subsequently became the sole owners of the channel (with each company owning a 50% interest).
In the fall of 1982, USA began operating on a 24-hour-a-day schedule, running a mix of talk shows, children's shows, and a low-budget movie from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The channel began running a mix of 1960s and 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoons each weekday evening from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. as part of the USA Cartoon Express block, with sports programming airing after 7:00 p.m., which were rebroadcast during the overnight hours. Weekends featured a mix of movies, some older drama series and talk shows during the morning hours, and sports during the afternoons and evenings. Overnights consisted of old low-budget films and film shorts, and music as part of a show called Night Flight.
Between 1984 and 1986, USA's programming focus began shifting away from sports, and shifted towards general entertainment programs not found on broadcast stations, including some less common network drama series and cartoons.