Fox Wins Second Sweeps in a Row
Although the fast-affiliate ratings will be available Thursday, NBC Entertainment Chief Jeff Zucker noted that before Wednesday night's primetime, NBC and Fox were tied, each with 4.4 rating according to Nielsen Media Research's fast-affiliate ratings. ABC and CBS were further behind in race for 18-49s, which all but CBS track and chase religiously. Zucker said that American Idol's finale would be a clear winner for Fox, boosting their May sweeps and season-long totals.
"They've used the Idol franchise to great benefit and you have got to give them credit for that," Zucker said.
Zucker did claim victory for NBC for the season in the adults 18-49 demographic, with a projected 4.5 rating for NBC, a 4.3 for Fox and 3.8 for both ABC and CBS. It's NBC's third straight season win in 18-49 and its seventh in eight years, excluding the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire initial season.
For Fox, the projected win of the May sweeps was confirmation that February's Joe Millionaire-powered performance wasn't a fluke, as American Idol lifted Fox to a 27% increase in 18-49 compared to a year ago. The network won its time period during the May sweeps in adults 18-49 with both editions of American Idol, 24, That '70s Show, Bernie Mac, Cops, King of The Hill, The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle. Fox also won the May sweeps in adults 18-34 and teens.
Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said that Fox was the only network this season to successfully use unscripted assets like American Idol and Joe Millionaire to boost its scripted shows. Grushow said that Fox clearly benefited from the American Idol phenomenon.
"We are trying to manage the asset as effectively and as intelligently as we possibly can in terms of building our scripted assets behind it. We have what we like to consider a very balanced schedule," Grushow said. Berman said she believed it's continuing into next season with a continued emphasis on quality programming.
Fox executives said they were keenly aware that postseason baseball - and its delayed premieres - gave NBC and other networks a head start on the season and on winning the 18-49 race. Grushow said Fox had a strategy for next season.
"I think the key is to avoid stumbling out of the gate in the fourth quarter, following postseason baseball. That's obviously been our challenge and we're hopefully that we can avoid spotting the competition a big lead because clearly we knw we're going to come back very strongly in January with the premiere of American Idol 3," Grushow said.
Parceling out American Idol is part of Fox's strategy. Instead of heaping more runs of the show during the season - like Survivor and The Bachelor - there will only be one American Idol per year.
"We're going to preserve this show until January. It will give the audience an opportunity to miss the series, miss characters like Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul and Randy Johnson and we think that when we bring the show back in January, it will be with great anticipation," Grushow said.
For ABC, which went from the peak of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire a few years ago to last year's nadir, just righting the ship is enough for this year. Lloyd Braun, chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, said Wednesday afternoon that he felt the network's main objective to reverse the ratings drop had succeeded. He pointed to ABC's performance this season, with a 6% increase in adults 18-49 and a 10% rise in adults 18-34. He said increases were also seen in adults 25-54, teens and kids, making it ABC's best year-to-year performance in 22 years (with the exception of Millionaire).
"All in all, we feel we have in fact stopped the bleeding," he said. Initial gains with sitcoms on Tuesday and Wednesday nights were blunted somewhat by American Idol but Braun said the ABC sitcoms were still "very strong seconds" to Idol. He also acknowledged the controvery over his statement at ABC's upfront that his network had tied CBS season-to-date in the 18-49 demographic but said that both CBS and ABC were tied at 3.8. "We lead them significantly in adults 18-34, by 18%," Braun said.