Fox Basks in 1st Season Demo Win

May 29, 2005  •  Post A Comment

For the first time, Fox won the season in the adults 18 to 49 demographic, edging out CBS by just a tenth of a ratings point.

With help from the music-reality phenomenon “American Idol,” Fox took a commanding lead in the advertiser-friendly demo, taking the top spot by a wider margin for May sweeps than it did for the season and also outpacing the other broadcast networks in adults 18 to 34 and teens.

For the 2004-05 season, which ran from Sept. 22, 2004, through May 25, 2005, Fox scored a 4.1 in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. CBS ran a close second with a 4.0. A newly resurgent ABC scored a 3.7, followed by last season’s No. 1 network, NBC, with a 3.5. The WB and UPN were tied for the season with a 1.4 in the demo.

While Fox and UPN were even this season from their demo performances in 2003-04, ABC-riding high from the No. 1 drama of the season, “Desperate Housewives”-was up 16 percent. CBS saw a 3 percent gain from last season, while The WB was down 7 percent. The biggest loser was NBC, which dropped 16 percent in its performance in adults 18 to 49 from last season.

For May sweeps, Fox scored a 4.5 in adults 18 to 49, followed by CBS (4.1), ABC (3.7), NBC (3.2), UPN (1.5) and The WB (1.4).

Fox also had the two top-rated shows for the season in adults 18 to 49, with the Tuesday edition of “Idol” scoring an 11.4 rating for the season and the Wednesday “Idol” results show pulling an 11.1. “Housewives” came in third for the season in the demo with a 10.4, followed by CBS’s veteran Thursday night procedural “CSI” (9.2) and ABC’s midseason medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” (8.1).

The Wednesday, May 25, two-hour finale of the Fox reality show, which crowned Oklahoma’s Carrie Underwood the fourth American idol, scored 12.5 in the demo, a 4 percent increase over last season’s finale. “Idol” garnered 30.28 million viewers, growing 5 percent from its finale last season.

Though “American Idol” has been a huge engine for Fox’s ratings growth since it premiered for its fourth installment in January, other series helped the network take the top demo spot for May sweeps and the season, said Peter Liguori, Fox’s entertainment president.

“You are seeing the breakout of ‘House’; you are seeing the successful move to Mondays for ’24’; you’re seeing a foothold on Thursday night, something this network has never had,” he said.

CBS noted in its May sweeps press release that Fox also had the benefit of the Super Bowl and postseason baseball. For weeks CBS executives, including Chairman Leslie Moonves during his network’s upfront announcement, have pointed out that if the World Series in November had been six games instead of seven, Fox wouldn’t have won the season in the demo.

Among the 20 top-rated shows in the demo for the season, CBS had nine series on the list, compared with ABC’s five, NBC’s four and Fox’s two-the Tuesday and Wednesday editions of “Idol.”

“In regularly scheduled lineups, we were the winners in adults 18 to 49,” said David Poltrack, executive VP of research and planning for CBS.

Mr. Liguori said making such distinctions over sports ignores the way television ratings are compiled.

“It is part of how it has been evaluated since somebody hit a baseball over a fence and a TV camera was there to record it,” he said. “The measurement has always included sports.”

ABC Rises

Besides improvement in adults 18 to 49, ABC saw seasonal growth in adults 18 to 34 (up 16 percent) and adults 25 to 54 (up 14 percent). ABC had the best season-to-season growth of any network in 25 years, said Michael Mellon, senior VP of research for ABC Television Network.

“It’s not just segmented in one area,” Mr. Mellon said. “It’s a remarkable transfusion of viewers in 18-plus.”

Besides the “Housewives” boost, ABC has benefited from the success of the island mystery “Lost” and “Anatomy.” The shows are the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 top-rated new series, respectively, for all networks in the demo for the season.

“The last time a single network did that was NBC five years ago, with ‘Leap of Faith,’ ‘Inside Schwartz’ and ‘Scrubs,'” Mr. Mellon said. “And which lineup would you rather have?”

Despite the disappointing performance, NBC’s fortunes this season can be in part explained by the loss of “Friends” and “Frasier,” said Tom Bierbaum, VP of ratings and program information for NBC Universal Television Group. He also said the less-than-a-ratings-point difference between first and fourth places for the season shows NBC is still in the race.

“We can certainly say we are not satisfied with where we stand,” Mr. Bierbaum said, “but we are pleased to be in such a competitive position. Hopefully, we have the tools to remain right in the thick of it for next season.”

For Mr. Bierbaum, the surprise of the season wasn’t NBC’s fall but ABC’s ratings ascension.

“It makes perfect sense the other three of us would be tightly packed,” he said, “but ABC, they had hits that nobody could have anticipated.”

When it comes to new breakout performers season, ABC had “Housewives,” Fox had “House,” NBC had its midseason paranormal procedural “Medium” and CBS had “CSI: NY.” The WB, however, had little to cheer about when it came to new fare, and avoided further ratings erosion thanks only to the rebound of network stalwarts such as “Gilmore Girls” and “One Tree Hill.”

“We didn’t have a new hit or two that really emerged, other than ‘Living With Fran’ on Fridays nights, which shored up that night for us,” said David Janollari, The WB’s entertainment president. “That’s what our goal is for next season-we’re looking to grow a real, honest-to-goodness breakout hit.”

Despite individual time period or night challenges for each of the networks, Mr. Poltrack said, the successful launch of so many new ratings performers means the season has closed on a high note for the industry.

“It’s a good year for the networks in general,” Mr. Poltrack said. “Network television goes into the year with very strong, fresh series and sophomore series as well.”

In particular, Mr. Poltrack said, his network and ABC have hits that are relatively young, which bodes well for continued ratings performance.

“These are strong shows functioning at their peak levels,” he said. “Network television has a lot of momentum going into the new season.”