Fox Stations Take Morning Crown

Aug 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Big 3-affiliated stations can’t seem to get up early enough in the morning to beat Fox Television Stations at catching younger viewers with early news programming.

In May, for the first time ever, Fox Television Stations as a group finished No. 1 from 5 to 9 a.m. in the 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 demos in its universe, said Frank Cicha, the Fox Television Stations senior VP for programming.

“We’re not talking about giant margins here, because nobody’s doing more than a 1%BD; to a 2 demo in the morning,” Mr. Cicha said.

The Fox group average lead is “a couple of tenths of a ratings point,” he said, citing Nielsen Media Research data.

Still, even a slim lead can pay off in more than bragging rights and premium prices for advertising spots, he said.

Looking ahead, the morning momentum suggests a better launch pad for the national morning show Fox has announced for early 2007 than the Fox-owned group could assemble in 1996, when it launched “Fox After Breakfast.”

“Breakfast” produced a number of enduring personalities, from “The Amazing Race” host Phil Keoghan and “Dancing With the Stars” host Tom Bergeron to “House Hunters'” Suzanne Whang on HGTV, but the show lasted just a year, from August 1996 to August 1997.

At the time Fox owned about a half-dozen stations, and not all of them produced local shows in the morning.

Now, all 26 Fox owned-and-operated stations, which reach nearly half of the country, produce four hours of local programming in which the inventory is locally controlled. The block is “one of our most profitable dayparts,” Mr. Cicha said.

The new national show will follow the local programming on the Fox stations.

That means “we’ll be putting like programming into like programming” with the advent of the national morning show featuring Fox News Channel’s “DaySide” co-hosts Juliet Huddy and Mike Jerrick.

The year-to-year performances last May show a lot of double-digit demo growth in the morning, topped by a 91 percent increase at WFXT-TV in Boston and a 45 percent increase at WOFL-TV in Orlando, Fla. Other double-digit increases include rises at KMSP-TV in Minneapolis, WAGA-TV in Atlanta, KSAZ-TV in Phoenix and KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City, one of the last Fox-owned stations to expand into early mornings.

At stations with more mature early-morning shows, growth was harder to come by-in Los Angeles, Dallas and Cleveland, for example. But they still rank No. 1 in the demo compared to the ABC-, CBS- and NBC-affiliated stations in their markets.

“Good Day New York” at WNYW-TV is in a more vexing position. The show finished second to last in total viewers and the 18 to 49 demo last May.

Mr. Cicha said “Good Day New York’s” performance is “essentially flat May to May in 18 to 49. The show has been reworked a number of times.”

Most recently, ABC overnight anchor Ron Corning was hired to co-host the New York show with Jodi Applegate. Mr. Cicha called it “a rebirth.”

The Fox group’s overall strength in the mornings, however, “is like a rising tide that lifts all boats,” said Steve Ridge, executive VP of TV consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates.

Mr. Ridge said the improved fortunes of Fox-owned stations ought to be provoking discussion at the network level at ABC, CBS and NBC.

“It just points to the fact that we’re in a perpetual state of evolution,” he said.

Mr. Cicha said Fox stations’ May performance should change the “misperception that the Fox stations are not as strong in morning news as they are,” he said. “We sort of snuck up on a lot of people over the last couple of years.”