How Fox Avoided the Premiere Week Ratings Decline Trend | PRO Insight

Fox is the only broadcast network to not drop in ratings from last year’s first fall week

NBC finished first in both ratings and viewers for the latest Fall TV premiere week, but Fox may actually be the big winner.

Fox actually grew 6% from the prior season’s premiere week among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic, according to Live + Same Day primetime ratings. The other broadcast networks were all down double digits in the key demo.

  1. Fox: +6%
  2. NBC: -10%
  3. CBS: -23%
  4. ABC: -25%

That gap from first to last widens when counting three days of DVR viewing. According to those numbers, which ratings company Nielsen first shared with clients today, below is how the English-language broadcast networks currently stack up vs. Premiere Week 2018:

  1. Fox: +5%
  2. NBC: -8%
  3. ABC: -13%
  4. CBS: -28%

You can see Fox and NBC had fairly consistent year-to-year changes, no matter how you slice it. Those are the two networks that pay big bucks for primetime NFL football, which is pretty much exclusively watched live. And for Premiere Week 2019, they both lucked out with excellent games.

We should point out that this story includes all primetime programming — both entertainment and sports — though that was probably obvious by the above paragraph. Scrubbing sports, things would look much differently.

Here’s how the networks hold up with only their entertainment programming:

  1. Fox: No change
  2. ABC: -8%
  3. CBS: -31%
  4. NBC: -35%

CBS, the network that targets and reaches the oldest viewers, did even worse in the days following a premiere than it did in “live” tune-in. Without “The Big Bang Theory,” which aired the first two episodes of its final season during Premiere Week 2018, the “live” drop off was pretty bad to begin with.

When factoring in 72 hours of (mostly) DVR viewing, ABC was 12 percentage points closer to remaining steady with its own prior-season premiere week. The network can thank a delayed-viewing bump for new series “Stumptown” joining “The Good Doctor” and “How to Get Away With Murder” — two shows that historically rely heavily on catch-up watching — for a chunk of that lift.

Fox, the only one in the black, pulled off the feat with a smart scheduling move, a new drama, and a little bit of luck.

First, the manmade (in this case, that man is Charlie Collier) impact: Fox wisely scheduled two hours of what had become an instant winter smash hit last season, “The Masked Singer,” for the fall’s premiere week. Considering Fox is the only network profiled in this story to nationally program just two hours a night and not three, that one change packed a disproportionately solid punch.

Part 2 of Fox’s jab-cross combo is new series “Prodigal Son,” the young season’s new No. 1 show, which rose to a 1.5 rating after three additional days of DVR cleanup were tallied.

The third part of Fox’s stew came from “Thursday Night Football,” which posted an 18% better rating than it had in the same week last year. As a matter of fact, the Eagles-Packers nail-biter was the best start to the annual “TNF” package since 2015. (This is just Fox’s second NFL season with “Thursday Night Football.”)

But Fox wasn’t the only network making sizzling bacon out of pigskin. NBC also got a particularly powerful showing from its “Sunday Night Football” game, which is mainly what kept its year-over-year decline in check. It was probably no coincidence that executives there picked the Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team,” for Week 4 of the NFL season, which is Week 1 of the Nielsen season.

Fox, which has Super Bowl LIV in February, is just getting started.

The network will likely see a nice bump when we can compare Week 2 of the 2018-19 season with this current one, Week 2 of the 2019-20, despite another “Masked Singer” decline that has already posted. After all, Fox has an hour of that oddball singing competition this time around, and tonight, it debuts two hours of highly coveted sports-entertainment property, WWE’s “Friday Night SmackDown.”

We’re not quite ready to hand Fox the first-place trophy for the 2019-20 season just yet, but don’t start engraving the letters “N-B-C” either.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • [email protected] • Twitter: @tonymaglio


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