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Slow Fox Debuts Not A Concern

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

“The Next Joe Millionaire” and “Skin” may have flopped in the ratings for their premieres last week, but that shouldn’t cost the network significant ad dollars.
“The Next Joe Millionaire” was sold to advertisers with modest expectations. Though last season’s 12.1 Nielsen Media Research ratings average in adult 18 to 49 for “Joe Millionaire” seemed to identify it as a major ongoing hit, media sellers and buyers say Fox offered up a more “modest” rating guarantee-in the 6 to 7 rating range.
While its 3.2 premiere rating fell short of that modest guarantee, even if its ratings don’t greatly improve, it shouldn’t lead to many make-goods because of the stellar performance of Major League Baseball playoffs and the World Series on Fox.
Baseball’s ratings bonanza has left Fox with an overabundance of gross ratings points. Baseball was sold as part of upfront deals that included “Next Joe” and “Skin.” So the overdelivery of baseball will count toward the underdelivery of “Millionaire” and “Skin.” With the World Series certain to go at least six games and likely to go seven, Fox is in a good position to make up for any future shortfalls.
“Because there was Game 7 in both of the playoffs, with plenty of pitching changes [creating opportunities to run ads], that means a lot of inventory,” said one veteran media buying executive. “They have the luxury of giving away some unsold units. At 20 ratings [each for those baseball games], it will totally make up for any shortfall. One ADU [audience deficiency unit] can take care of a whole fourth-quarter part of the upfront.”
Networks always anticipate that there will be some shortfalls in ratings, especially with the historical track of network ratings erosion in recent years. “They get their clients to agree to take them as pre-payment for any upfront underdelivery in prime time,” the buyer said. “And the clients are happy because they are in a 20 rated show.”
While Fox won’t take a major financial hit on “Next Joe,” its poor performance was still a major disappointment for Fox executives.
“Next Joe’s” 3.2/9 in adults 18 to 49 and paltry 6.8 million viewers was a far cry from the 10.1/22 demo rating and 18.6 million viewers who tuned in for the premiere episode of the first “Joe Millionaire” in January. To add insult to injury, “Next Joe” finished fifth in its time slot in total viewers, getting beaten by The WB’s “7th Heaven” (7.2 million) and a repeat of ABC’s “Threat Matrix” (6.8 million).
Fox had planned on big numbers from “Next Joe” to drive viewers to watch “Skin.” That didn’t happen. “Skin” earned a fourth-place 2.7/6 in adults 18 to 49 and fourth-place 6.3 million viewers. Last year “girls club” premiered in the same time slot with a 2.5/8 in the demo and 5.8 million viewers and was canceled after two episodes.
Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman vowed to continue to put the network’s muscle behind “Skin,” which is slated to repeat Monday episodes on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. “You have to look at this experience of launching shows now in a much more marathonlike way as opposed to the filmlike opening numbers,” she said, pointing to “The O.C.”
“The O.C.” premiered to low numbers but after repeating episodes two or three times a week, the audience grew, and the network now considers it a hit.
Both “Next Joe” and “Skin” got heavy promotion during one of the highest-rated Major League Baseball playoff series ever, but that didn’t do much good. In fact, part of the problem could be that viewers weren’t aware that the shows were starting before the Major League Baseball playoffs ended.
“I have now heard that so many times that I believe that might have something to do with it,” Ms. Berman said. “We believed in the promotional campaigns we launched these shows with, but clearly something was amiss on that message.”
Fox doesn’t plan to change its tack with “Next Joe,” which is scheduled to air original episodes twice a week for four weeks starting Oct. 28.
The bad ratings news came on the heels of Fox’s giddiness after the network, fueled by baseball, overtook NBC last week in the adults 18 to 49 race four weeks into the season. Through last Wednesday, Fox is No. 1 in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.8/13, besting NBC’s 4.3/12. ABC is third with a 3.8/10, followed by CBS (3.6/10), The WB (1.8/5) and UPN 1.5/4.