TV Marketing: Fox hunts for ratings-and senior marketing executive

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News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co. has been anything but a temptation island for viewers, as ratings on many of its top flagship shows have plummeted. Now, the network has stepped up efforts to hire a marketing chief to help boost its sagging fortunes.

Through March 10, Fox ratings sunk a massive 24% for its regular programming in the key adults 18-49 demographic. Among the four major networks, Fox is now the biggest loser in that coveted advertiser target group. Overall, season to date ratings leave them in second place behind NBC.

bread and butter

"The only real way to tell how the network is doing is to look at their regular programming," said Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP-programming analysis for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media North America. "That's their bread and butter."

Case in point: "Ally McBeal," down 28% this season, so far; "The X-Files," off 39%; "Titus," falling 27%; and "Dark Angel," down 46%, according to media-buying executives. With Fox prime-time programming in such a deep tailspin, it is searching for a senior marketing executive. Fox said its search has no connection with ratings issues.

Sandy Grushow, chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group, has been informally looking for a head of marketing ever since last year. At one time Fox, sought aid from Fox Filmed Entertainment, which was at the same time also looking for an executive to run its theatrical marketing group. When those efforts failed, Fox TV decided to pursue another course.

Fox's most senior marketing executive, Cindy Hauser, senior VP-marketing and creative director, recently left. Mike Levine, president of Mike Levine Search Consultants,who was recently hired by Fox, said, "They want someone to create the next sensation."

Several of its new and much-hyped shows have failed to catch fire, such as "Undeclared" and "24." Fox's critically acclaimed "24" might have lost some viewers because each episode of the season is one hour of a continuous 24-hour period. Viewers who missed one episode may not have come back. However, "The Bernie Mac Show," new this season, has built a solid audience Wednesday nights at 9. Fox's Sunday night block of animated shows "King of the Hill," "Futurama" and "The Simpsons" followed by "Malcolm in the Middle" continues to deliver high ratings.

decisions

"Fox will be faced with a very challenging decision because [`24'] is the type of edgy, well-done drama that should define their network-more than Paula Jones and Tonya Harding boxing," said John Rash, senior VP-director, broadcast negotiations for Interpublic's Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis.

Last week, Fox featured the tabloid-esque "Celebrity Boxing," with notorious ice skater Tonya Harding taking on Paula Jones. Seventies-sitcom stars Danny Bonaduce ("The Partridge Family") and Barry Williams ("The Brady Bunch") were also featured.

A marketing hire is seen as crucial given Fox first fostered the idea of promoting a network as a brand in the late `80s. Whoever takes the job will have the advantage of the Fox reputation to build from, as the network is still viewed as a younger-skewing, more edgy destination.

no different

"They're no different than the other networks, really, in audience, but there's a perception they are," said Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York. "Why would you change that? They have a better reputation than what they actually deliver."

Don't count Fox out yet, cautioned Ms. Koerner. "They always seem to have a miserable fall, but always come back midseason," she said. Fox in the past introduced "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Titus," as midseason efforts. So far "The American Embassy," a midseason show, has earned a fair 3.5 in adults 18-49 in the "Ally McBeal" 9 p.m. time period.

Overall, Fox' special events, especially the Super Bowl and the World Series, helped gloss over the bad news. Fox is only down 7% for its season to date average for all programming (Sept. 24 to March 10), to a rating of 4.3 for adults 18-49, when these two major events are taken into account. Fox is still second to NBC which posted a 5.4 rating in this all-important measure.

The last exec VP-marketing Fox had was Senn Moses, who left in January 2001 after a nine-month stay, with plans to start his own company. Mr. Grushow had been the original head of marketing in the late `80s.

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