LOS ANGELES — A few months ago, the Fox broadcasting network made a big deal about no longer sending daily missives to reporters about overnight ratings, citing the increasing irrelevancy of live-plus-same-day viewing in an on-demand world. This was mostly a symbolic gesture: The people who write about ratings for a living generally don’t rely on networks for Nielsen data. And it could easily have been interpreted as sour grapes from a fourth-place network, if other network honchos (most notably CBS Corp.’s Leslie Moonves) weren’t also insisting upon the insignificance of overnights.
Fox Television Group Co-Chairman/CEO Gary Newman Friday doubled down on the idea, telling reporters at an industry event here that “it just felt hypocritical to focus on live-plus-same-day when no decisions were being made [based] on it.” Instead, Fox has been making most of its deals with advertisers based on commercial views through three or seven days.
“Scream Queens,” Fox’s comedy-horror anthology series (just go with it), is perhaps the best example of the potential benefits to thinking beyond live ratings. Categorizing the show’s live-plus-same-day performance as lackluster would be charitable, but Newman and Co-Chairman/CEO Dana Walden renewed it for a second season anyway, because the ratings that took into account viewing on other ad-supported platforms accounted for 44 percent of its total audience within seven days. Add in the fact that Fox owns the show and can therefore make buckets of money selling it in the international market and to streaming services (at least, in theory), and it goes from being a loss leader to an asset.
Performance on ad-supported platforms such as Fox Now (the official Fox app) and Hulu (which is partially owned by the parent Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.) is something the network has been pushing hard in its deals with advertisers. “Monetizing the non-Nielsen audience remains a challenge,” Newman said. “But advertisers are recognizing [ratings beyond live-same-day] have to be part of the conversation.”
To help ease the pain of those conversations, Fox, like other programmers, is beginning to lean in to co-branding — essentially, product integration on steroids. Its hit hip-hop soap “Empire,” which was formally renewed for a third season Friday morning, recently completed a three-episode arc revolving around one of the characters writing a song for Pepsi. At the same time, Newman acknowledged, “You don’t want to overcommercialize the content.”
But just because networks like Fox are moving the goal posts doesn’t mean the goal posts don’t exist anymore.
Contrast the treatment of “Scream Queens” with the swift demise of “Minority Report,” which followed one of the precogs from the hit 2002 Tom Cruise film. Walden took care to point out “Minority Report” stayed on the schedule throughout the fall — “It was a show that resonated with millions of people” — but didn’t make it past 10 episodes.
“It was a show that ultimately was going to require time and patience and effort to grow it, and we just thought, in this marketplace, there probably wouldn’t be that opportunity,” Walden said mere moments after she and Newman had counseled exactly that kind of patience. “Minority Report” didn’t see anything like the delayed viewing lift of “Scream Queens,” but the key difference is that “Minority Report” was a joint venture with Warner Bros. TV, and it cost several more piles of money than Fox felt it could make back. And the bar is just higher for dramas than it is for comedies, even hourlong ones.
Thus Fox’s familiar-seeming drama development slate: It just ordered pilots for a Kiefer Sutherland-less “24” spinoff and a “Prison Break” event series that would bring back stars Michael Wentworth and Dominic Purcell (both currently starring in the CW’s latest comic-book drama “Legends of Tomorrow”). And although its six-episode revival of “The X-Files” hasn’t premiered yet, Newman and Walden expressed an interest in bringing the show back for yet more episodes should they be able to work out a schedule with stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, as well as creator Chris Carter. Both “24” and “Prison Break” were cornerstones of the Fox schedule in the 2000s before petering out.
“We’re still in rebuilding mode,” Newman said. What better way to rebuild than to reboot?