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Fox Discovers Summer Strategy

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fox stole a page from cable’s playbook and was rewarded with a ratings bump for “The O.C.”
After airing the first episode three times in one week, Fox ran the second episode of “The O.C.” and saw a 21 percent bump in its 18 to 49 ratings (3.5/10 vs. 2.9/8) and won its time slot. “The O.C.” was also up 40 percent week to week in adults 18 to 34 (4.2/14 vs. 3.0/9) and picked up 400,000 more viewers.
“We may have stumbled upon a way to launch a scripted show in the summer, which is basically, put it all over your schedule and collect the viewers,” said Preston Beckman, executive VP of strategic program planning at Fox.
Airing the same episode of a series several times in one week is standard operating procedure for most cable networks, which usually have only a handful of original series running at the same time. Broadcast networks, however, usually don’t have enough open time slots during the regular season to give a new show more than one airing a week. What’s more, summer has been one of cable’s usual periods for launching scripted shows.
“We have less of a luxury of doing it in season, because once you’re in season you want to compete,” Mr. Beckman said.
However, he said the success of repeating “The O.C.” so far has emboldened Fox to look for ways to give the first episode of new Monday night drama “Skin” multiple exposures during its first week this fall. It’s slated to premiere Oct. 20, during the week of the World Series. Depending on how many games the series goes, that could open up some time slots for multiple runs.
Fox plans to air the second and third episodes of “The O.C.” three times, with additional time slots Friday nights at 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Mondays from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. The total audience of the three runs of the first episode combined (which means a viewer watched at least six minutes of the show) was 22 million unduplicated viewers and a 9.3 rating in adults 18 to 49.
The performance of the second episode of “The O.C.” may have been boosted by the fact that it was not competing against NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” “Comic’s” series finale won the time slot when it aired against the first episode of “The O.C.” “The O.C.” is the second original scripted series Fox has tried this summer in the same Tuesday 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slot. The first-“Keen Eddie”-premiered to better ratings than “The O.C.” with a 3.2/9, but it fell to 2.2/6 ratings average in adults 18 to 49 after six episodes aired. “Eddie” ran only once a week.
Whether the audience has an appetite for original scripted programming in the summer has been a debate for the broadcast networks the past few years, since most of them have stated their intentions to be in the originals business 52 weeks a year.
More than a year ago, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said NBC would air two original scripted shows this summer, but that hasn’t happened. At the Television Critics Association press tour last month, Mr. Zucker said NBC would love to have original scripted programming airing in the summer, but the network changed its mind about this summer being a good time for it.
“We’ve come around to the belief that we’re not convinced that the audience is ready for that yet,” he said. “They’ve been conditioned to believe [original scripted series] is stuff that’s being burned off.”
While “Keen Eddie” didn’t make the cut, Mr. Beckman said Fox doesn’t think success with original series is an unattainable goal.
“Clearly, our success with `The O.C.’ indicates that it’s possible to launch a scripted show in the summer,” he said. “It took a great promotional campaign and a different strategy for exposing the show to the Fox audience.”
John Rash, senior VP and director, broadcast negotiations, Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis, said cable has proved that viewers will tune in to scripted series in the summer, citing FX’s “Nip/Tuck” and USA’s “Peacemakers.”
“Viewers want to be entertained, educated or enlightened at all times of the year, and it’s more of an issue of the quality and quantity of scripted summer series than it is viewers rejecting them,” he said. “`The O.C.’ is a smart, strategic effort to beat the fall rush. It is the type of program that may be aided by schoolyard word of mouth, which will begin post-Labor Day as teens and tweens return to class.”