‘Fear’ Confirmed as Winner for FX

Aug 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Basic cable network FX’s $30 million gamble on “Fear Factor” repeats appears to be paying off, according to early ratings results.

FX has used repeats of gross-out reality show “Fear Factor” to patch ratings holes in its schedule since the basic-cable network quietly launched the exclusive syndication run June 28 without a marketing campaign. FX has put the show on weekdays at 7 p.m. and also at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and it has been airing marathons of “Fear Factor” on Fridays-traditionally its weakest night of the week.

FX took a chance when it snagged the “Fear Factor” cable rights, banking on the ability of the highly rated NBC show to prove it’s a long-term repeat performer. The acquisition of four years of such stunts as competitive roach-eating is considered a litmus test of the back-end potential for prime-time broadcast reality ventures.

The result has been across-the-board time-slot improvement-up to 106 percent gain on Fridays-but not enormous viewership. The 7 p.m. telecast, for instance, is averaging 880,000 total viewers and 473,000 adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. Numbers have remained steady since the FX premiere and, sources said, have exceeded the network’s rating guarantee to advertisers.

“It’s a workhorse, said Chuck Saftler, FX’s senior VP of programming. “It’s improved every time period it’s gone into. We’ve used it as a way to incredibly improve Friday prime time.”

But with NBC’s version averaging 14 million viewers, the cable network still hopes to develop more interest in its investment.

“All shows need to be found, and it’s summertime, and I’m still doing a 1 rating in prime time,” Mr. Saftler said. “I’m expecting these numbers to grow as we get out of summer and out of daylight savings. My expectation is these numbers have a lot of ceiling room.”

FX purchased “Fear Factor” under an agreement that granted the network a three-month exclusive off-network window before the show goes to broadcast syndication. Most local stations plan to run “Factor” twice per day-in the late afternoon and in late-night. Though Mr. Saftler said local stations’ “Factor” time slots will not conflict with FX’s, that’s still a lot of host Joe Rogan on the dial-well over 20 one-hour episodes per week.

Mr. Saftler said he isn’t concerned about the possibility of “Factor” burnout.

“There are a number of shows out there that have succeeded despite the presence of syndication,” he said.

Though FX doesn’t have original episodes, Mr. Saftler said, it will air the couple outings that have been judged too racy for repeating on NBC-such as the episode where contestants perform a nude fashion show. The most envelope-pushing stunts, he said, will air only in the late-night slots.

As for station owners, Bill Carroll, VP, director of programming, for Katz TV, said his expectations are “high, but reasonable.”

“No matter what they put against it on NBC, it worked,” Mr. Carroll said. “[The FX performance] is a potentially positive indicator, as stations that are going to run it are close to FX in their profile.”

On some local stations, “Fear Factor” will air in time slots that have been occupied by the recently canceled “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest,” Mr. Carroll said, adding that “Fear” could benefit from the low ratings performances of “Seacrest.” If “Factor” raises ratings in the former “Seacrest” slots, stations will view “Fear” as a success.

Still, Mr. Carroll refused to make any predictions.

“In all honesty, I don’t think anybody knows how it’s going to work out,” he said. “But it’s a reasonable role of the dice.”