Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fox TV: Best 2 out of 3

There are five major TV networks in America: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW.

Fox is frequently reported as the most watched network, but is that really accurate?

The ratings reported are for "prime time" broadcasts. That's 8 pm to 11 pm Monday - Saturday and 7 pm to 11 pm on Sunday. That comes to 22 hours of prime time TV a week.

But...Fox (and CW) goes off the air at 10 pm every night!

They show 1/3 less shows than ABC, NBC and CBS.

Here is a typical week's worth of TV ratings (in .pdf format).

A rating point = 1% of American households with a TV.
A share point = 1% of American households with a TV turned on when the show was aired.

So a show's share will always be larger that a show's rating. (In the unlikely event that every single American home with a TV had it turned on, a show's rating and share would be indentical.)

As you can see from the link, Fox (and CW) are showing 15 hours of prime time shows a week while ABC, CBS and NBC are showing 22 hours a week. Yet they are all judged by their average rating. This is fine for setting ad rates, but not when it comes to determining which network is the most watched.

Fox can't even fill its paltry 15 hours a week with original programming. It fills an hour each Sunday with repeats of Family Guy, King of the Hill or The Simpsons and Friday night it runs repeats of House and Bones.

Even though its the night when hits like Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart used to run, Saturday night is now a junkyard for all the networks. They all tend to run movies, repeats and cheap news and "reality" shows.

So, basically, Fox's ratings consist of American Idol plus House....2 1/2 hours of TV that are so popular that they drag the average rating of the other 12 1/2 hours Fox puts on high enough for it to score a ratings win or a place for the week.

Without American Idol, Fox would be competing with CW for the least-watched network crown.

With American Idol, Fox frequently "wins" the ratings race.

That's why Idol judge Simon Cowell gets $30 million a year to be mean for one and half hours a week.

And that's why every network keeps trying out new Idol clones every few weeks...


Blogger happyfeet said...

alphie - your analysis need to clarify that the Fox "most-watched" claim is respect to Adults 18-49, not Total Viewers.

Your argument with respect to American Idol is flawed as well, in that they have used the show well to promote other programs, and to build House into a top-10 show. You also should note that Fox has Bones (#51 this season among A18-49), Prison Beak (#33 A18-49 and a HUGE hit internationally), The Simpsons (#28 A18-49) and 24 (#14 A18-49). Moreover, Fox either solely produces or coproduces all four of these shows, and therefore retains a significant percentage of ancillary revenue. Whatever equity they have in Idol (if any) is insignificant, in that ancillary revenues are minimal. It is a promotional workhorse.

Also, Fox gets a substantial leg up on A18-49 viewers from baseball, despite disappointing ratings, and even when the World Series underperforms, it still wins the night.

You are absolute right in the disproportionate effect Idol has on the net's average rating though, however, I think you overlook the fact that if you want to target A18-49 in prime, you would be handicapping yourself considerably if you built a media plan that excluded Fox.

Where you can fault them on is failing to build a sitcom to take Malcom's place.

You also overlook Univision, which outperformed the CW pretty much across the board in the May sweep this year.

Saturday night is a junkyard because the universe of Households Using Television is so much smaller than on other nights that it doesn't really justify an investment in original programming. With Tivo, the if-you-build-it-they -will-come argument is now a complete and total non-starter.

3:17 AM  

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