Deconstructing Fox’s Win

Mar 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

By anyone’s standards Fox had a stunning February sweeps, particularly in the key 18 to 49 demographic, where it looks likely to emerge in the No. 1 slot. It has a chance, too, of winning the entire broadcast season.
It’s an amazing performance, one which will have an impact on buyers. But what difference, if any, does such a shift make to planners? Does the network’s performance matter to planners or is it all about the individual shows?
The first and most inescapable thing to say is that the network’s strength is synonymous with the performance of a few key shows. Fox’s spectacular performance is built around the astonishing numbers posted by “American Idol” and “Joe Millionaire” in particular.
Fox is expected to beat NBC by nearly a full rating point (5.8 vs. 4.9) in the 18 to 49 demographic. It is closing fast in the overall race too. It has another supposed reality show trump card up its sleeve: “Married by America,” which launches this week.
Whether it does or does not beat NBC, it is still an amazing turnaround for the News Corp. network, which began this season in a depressed state with some 20 percent fewer ratings points than the previous year.
But it’s a success built on reality shows-which planners often steer mainstream advertisers away from. What’s more, “Joe Millionaire” had too short a run and was filled with make-goods. So, what does this success really mean?
Strangely, some planners preferred to avoid this subject or remain anonymous when this question was raised-perhaps for fear of being seen in conflict with their own buyers.
“It really doesn’t change things from a planner’s perspective,” said one. “For buyers, maybe. Fox may be able to be more confident on pricing for the next upfronts. But beyond the fact the Fox does increasingly represent a clear mainstream alternative, it’s really not about the network.” It was a view echoed elsewhere.
Rupert Newton, managing partner in the New York-based media strategy company Michaelides & Bednash (with clients like Elle and Oxygen), said he feels that there is a bit of a So what? attitude regarding sweeps results.
“It’s all manipulated anyway. Everyone knows that the sweeps is a currency that’s flawed, but there is too much inertia to change it,” he said. “If you are a niche cable channel like Home & Garden, then you can sell the channel.”
“The real point about Fox here is that it is definitely taken more seriously because it now has a wide-range of programming from “24” to “The Simpsons.” It has always scheduled aggressively. But it’s the programs planners care about.”
And the real lesson from Fox’s recent success is that it really takes just one or two programs to really shake up a network’s profile.