Pasadena, Calif.-- "American Idol" won't save the day this time for Fox.
Speaking at the Television Critics Association meeting here, Kevin Reilly, chairman of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company, conceded that the network won't lead among key 18-49 viewers by the end of season.
"We are not going to get it," says Reilly. "I didn't think we'd have this tough of a fall. We are not going to be on top of ratings this year." Looking ahead, he adds, "I would like to be a lot closer than we are now." Building up struggling shows will benefit Fox going into next year, he says.
Fox has won the last eight seasons among 18-49 viewers, an audience that national TV advertisers value highly. "American Idol" had been the top-rated show among 18-49 viewers for eight seasons -- virtually the entire industry-leading run for Fox. (Last season, "Idol" was bested by NBC's "Sunday Night Football" for the top spot.)
Fox didn't have a particularly good fall season, down by major double-digit percentages among 18-49 viewers. This was somewhat of a repeat of seasons ago, with Fox seemingly struggling with its fall lineup -- only to be rescued by "American Idol" come January.
Reilly says there were too many disruptions in fall 2012, including Major League Baseball's World Series and playoffs. Nielsen estimates the network is down over 20% in key 18-49 viewers.
Discussing Fox's failure to do well this past fall, Reilly says the marketing of TV shows continues to be a major problem --- especially with growing cable TV and new digital video competition: "A lot of our audience has no idea where anything is. There is a lot of churn. With so many things on the air, some people say, 'I'm going to wait to see what's real.'"
In particular, Fox says there is a problem with comedies -- some of which it failed to get meaningful ratings this fall: "Ben and Kate" and "The Mindy Project" in particular. "It's a lot harder to get a sampling for comedies. Our shows weren't sampled. That means people were rolling over it in the DVRs. Dramas are different, more of an appointment sell."
Network executives continue to complain that more show viewings happen in a time-shifted basis, and especially three days after its live premiere airing -- something TV advertisers don't pay for. "[More] people are watching the show outside our monetizable window," says Reilly. Hopefully, he says, Fox can change this soon.
Reilly was hit with a number of questions concerning violence at the TCA -- in light of events in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo. Fox has one series -- "The Following," about a network of serial killers, starring Kevin Bacon -- that has ample criminal content and images.
More than ever, Reilly said broadcast networks have to compete with cable networks -- and their sometimes more graphic, violent and language content. "We must match the intensity -- otherwise we will be a pale comparison," he says.
In addition to "Idol" and "The Following," Fox will announce two long-form event series starting in 2014, one from M. Night Shyamalan, a "Twin Peaks"-like thriller called "Wayward Pines," and "Blood Brothers," a Civil War-era drama about West Point.