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Provides Boost for Fox's Sagging Ratings

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NEW YORK ( -- A jazz-dancing janitor, a 17-year-old female boxer and a woman who pawned her wedding ring all helped the Fox Network draw its largest audience ever for a season premiere episode of American Idol.
One-third of everyone watching TV in the U.S. was watching the premiere of the fourth season of Fox's 'American Idol.'

According to early metered market data, the premiere of the fourth season of American Idol last night drew 33.45 million viewers and gained a 14 rating and a 33 share. By comparison, last week's highest rated show was CBS' CSI, which drew 27.5 million viewers.

A share is a percentage of television households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. (For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with TV.)

Fox's third most watched
The season opener makes Idolthe third most-watched show in Fox's history, behind the finale of Joe Millionaire and the finale of the second season of American Idol in 2002. The show also increased its 18- to 49-year-old viewership by 9% and 16% in total viewers.

Gail Berman, the Fox Broadcasting Co.'s president of entertainment, yesterday at a press event in California said she expected to see ratings declines for the talent-search show, which will air three nights a week. Speaking to today, Ms. Berman said: "I expected it to be down and I don't think many people disagreed with that. I've never been happier to have been silly."

Ms. Berman said she had shared a "celebratory" moment with News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch and his No. 2, News Corp. President Mr. Peter Chernin. She said the staff would have ice cream today to celebrate the ratings win. "We're all teetotalers" she added.

Spike offsets other failures
The Idol audience spike comes after many of Fox's scripted and reality shows failed to draw well. The Rebel Billionaire met modest ratings, and The Next Great Champ was pushed off to a sibling cable network due to poor ratings, while summer launches such as The Jury and Method and Red were canceled.

While Ms. Berman said that ratings for a second episode generally dip, the success of American Idol will likely give a bump to other Fox shows, such as its dramas, including 24 and House and newcomer Point Pleasant. Fox finished the fourth quarter in last place among the other networks with a 3.4 share of advertiser-coveted 18- to 49-year-olds, though the network has traditionally finished the season strong on the back of the success of Idol.

The broadcast was sponsored by its usual advertisers -- Ford Motor Co., Coca-Cola Co. and Cingular, which has replaced AT&T Wireless, following their merger. Other second-tier sponsors from the previous season -- Old Navy and Clairol Herbal Essence -- did not reappear, though Fox said other advertisers may come on board as the season progresses.

64 ads
Fox ran a total of 64 spots in the two-hour broadcast, not including promotions for Fox's own shows. The major advertisers included Burger King, Wal-Mart, H&R Block, Mitsubishi and a public service announcement for the government's anti-drug campaign.

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