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FOX LEADS TV SWEEPS RATINGS

Network Is Up 84% in 18-49 Audience Demographic

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The February sweeps, due to wrap in eight days, are certain to go to News Corp's Fox Network, given its broadcast of the Super Bowl, the most-watched TV event this year.
Super Bowl and 'American Idol' have put Fox over the top.

The network is up in the advertiser-important 18- to 49-year-old demographic by a whopping 84%, according to Nielsen Media Research for the sweeps period through Feb. 22.

Fox's ratings grew from a 3.7 to a 6.8 on the back of the Super Bowl; American Idol, now airing three days a week; and growing interest in the medical drama House. The series has received a lift from its slot, now following American Idol on Tuesdays.

End March 3
The sweeps, which help networks set local ad rates, began Feb. 3 and end March 3. the period is of declining importance because of the growth of Nielsen's local people meter measurement systems. Even the networks are scheduling less stunt programming, such as miniseries or blockbuster movie TV debuts, during the sweeps months.

Nevertheless, good sweeps numbers still act as an effective public relations tool for the broadcast networks.

Across the dial, General Electric Co.'s NBC is getting hurt the most this sweeps; its 18-49 ratings are down 28% to 3.6 through Feb. 22. Viacom's UPN and Time Warner's the WB are also sharing the pain; both are down 18.8%, pulling an equal 1.3 ratings in the same demo. Viacom's CBS was also down 11.4% while Walt Disney Co.'s ABC posted a 19.4% increase over the same period. (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.)

Season-to-date performance
While the sweeps provide an interesting snapshot of how the networks are performing against each other, the real news is in the season-to-date performance. For week 22 of the TV season, which officially began Sept. 22, CBS and Fox are tied for first place, averaging a four rating in the 18-49 demo. CBS did big numbers with Survivor: Palau. The reality show returned last week for its 10th series. The show, which gained a 9.1 rating in the coveted demographic, helped CBS win the night in that demo and put the heat on NBC's Joey.

The race is still close between ABC and NBC, as the former is averaging a 3.9 rating and the latter 3.7, an 11.9% decline on the network's performance this time last year. That puts NBC in fourth place.

NBC's upcoming series
NBC, however, launched many of its shows outside the traditional season to capitalize on promotions it ran during the Summer Olympics. NBC doesn't have National Football League properties that ABC, CBS and Fox share, and the network is still to launch some of its most anticipated shows, including boxing reality series The Contender from Mark Burnett Productions (creator of Survivor) and the office-drama spoof The Office. The network is also working on two new Martha Stewart series.

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