Pasadena, Calif. -- Fox will expand its prime-time animation efforts, but in a somewhat backwards manner -- it will be programming a late-night Saturday animation block as part of new
multiplatform digital effort.
Fox made the announcement during the Television Critics Association meeting.
The animated programming effort will run from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Saturdays starting this year, and will be headed up by former Turner Broadcasting Adult Swim executive, Nick Weidenfeld. It will feature four animation series per season in that hour-and-a-half time period.
For years, Fox has had a strong Sunday night animated lineup featuring the likes of "The Simpsons," "American Dad," and its strongest animated show currently, "Family Guy." These animated shows draw a strong young male audience that is desirable for advertisers.
Much of the development for the new Saturday night animated block could
come from a new online digital area that Fox will create, starting with some 50 original short-form pieces per year. The digital area will also be used as online windows for existing Fox animated
shows, as well as a place for what it calls "user adapted content." The digital channel will extend across the Internet, mobile apps, game consoles, and video on demand.
"It might be a short on a digital channel that may be the next prime-time hit," says Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment of Fox Broadcasting Company, speaking at the TCA event.
Reilly says this will be the first time a network will be using a digital video platform for network TV development on an ongoing basis. "It's not as though we are closed on Saturday night," he adds.
Some of the impetus for Fox comes from the success of Turner Broadcasting's weekday programming block, Adult Swim, which Reilly says Fox has helped. The block includes reruns of "Family Guy."
Talking about Fox's current prime-time shows, Reilly says the network has not made any decision about next year for new show "Terra Nova" and long-time Fox series "House."
In reviewing its performance for the fall, Reilly says singing competition show "The X Factor," while no "American Idol" in terms of ratings, still gave Fox a 14% improvement in its fall 18-49 viewership. Reilly says: "I'm very happy to have it and it will be around for a long time."
Concerning "American Idol," still the most-viewed show on U.S. broadcast networks, Reilly expects the show will probably take another rating hit. "I expect 'Idol' to be down this year," says Reilly. But this is more than normal for a show its age, entering its 11th season.
Justifying the steep 60% and more license fee increase that Fox and other networks paid for the NFL, Reilly says live sports continue to be important in a time-shifted world -- as well as live reality competition episodes. "It's very good to have tentpoles," he says.
Although Fox and other networks only sell commercial time to advertisers that factors in three days of viewing, more network shows continue to grow in viewership over a seven-day basis. "You are watching the top shows get over two points in live plus 7," says Reilly. Live plus 7 is the live airing plus seven days of time-shifted viewing of a TV show.
For all the success of big ratings coming from the World Series (especially the 2011 World Series), Fox can still suffer when to comes to the baseball playoffs disrupting its early fall launches.
"'Glee' is down 19%," says Reilly. "All of that happened in the three-week hiatus." But Reilly says it has climbed back -- and now regularly gets 4.3 or a 4.4 ratings among total 18-49 viewership.