FOX'S FALL SERIES RATINGS SHOW STRATEGIC MISSTEP: PROGRAMS AIMED AT YOUTH AREN'T WINNING VIEWERS

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Disappointing ratings for much of Fox Broadcasting's fall schedule underscore the dangers of targeting an audience that may be hot with Madison Avenue but also is finicky and restless.

Fox premiered at least four shows aimed at 18-to-34-year-olds: "Get Real," "Harsh Realm," "Action" and "Ryan Caulfield." None has caught on with viewers.

"Consumers have a consideration set," said Bruce Groelich, senior VP-worldwide media research director at MediaVest Worldwide, New York. "They say, 'I'm going to look at these certain channels.' What's been happening at Fox is that among the younger people, it's not the first place they turn any more. In terms of preference, kids are turning first to the WB."

Fox isn't alone in trying to co-opt the WB crowd. NBC's "Freaks & Geeks" and ABC's "Wasteland" also have tried, unsuccessfully, to reach younger viewers.

David Poltrack, CBS exec VP-planning and research, said the strategy of going after the WB audience was wrong for a number of reasons. CBS' audience skews older, and the network has aggressively promoted the merits of older viewers in recent years.

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"The problem with the strategy is that if you succeed in getting the WB audience, you have made it easier to reach, and you'll eliminate the premium Madison Avenue puts on it. And if you fail, you end up with no one," Mr. Poltrack said. "Since the bigger networks don't usually target that narrowly, some of these shows have ratings below anything we've seen before."

Indeed, for the first five weeks of the season, most of the youth-oriented Fox, NBC and ABC shows scored ratings of between 2.6 and 3.8, as measured by Nielsen Media Research.

Mr. Poltrack said that between 1991 and 1995 no program on CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox had an average rating lower than a 4 in the early weeks of the season.

Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox, bristles at the notion that Fox's programming doesn't appeal to 18 to 34 year olds. He concedes that some new programming hasn't worked, but cites the network's strength in that demographic with "Ally McBeal" and other shows.

"Each network has its own personality," noted Lyle Schwartz, senior VP-director of media research, Media Edge, New York. "The WB has carved out a real nice niche. They're the first stop for that 18-to-34-year-old group right now."

According to Mr. Schwartz, the problem the other networks have in going after that group is: "You really can't just drop in a program that's different from what viewers expect to see on your network. Fox has matured. It's grown bigger than just [the] 18 to 34 [group]. And clearly the other networks [have] as

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