Exclusive: Fox fails to cash in on 'Joe Millionaire'

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Fox Broadcasting Co.'s heavily hyped hit "Joe Millionaire" is bringing buzz, but the network can't cash in on its ratings success.

Because of Fox's massive ratings under-delivery this season-down at times nearly 20% for regular-season programming vs. a year ago-it won't be able to sell too many coveted time slots in the reality series to new advertisers at hefty prices. Instead, it needs to use much of that inventory for make-goods, free ads to compensate marketers for missed ratings guarantees in other programming.

Initial ratings for "Joe Millionaire" were impressive, with a 10 rating and 22 share among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. That made it the highest-rated network premiere of the season, as well as Fox's best showing in the time period in eight years. In the show's debut, on Jan. 6 at 9 p.m., it earned almost 19 million viewers overall. "Joe Millionaire" is a limited series that will run for seven weeks.

"This will help us erase some of the make-good issues that we had," said Jon Nesvig, president-advertising for Fox Broadcasting Co.

price hike

Fox is asking $375,000 for a 30-second commercial, about twice the $160,000 to $175,000 price that advertisers paid before the show made its debut, according to agency executives.

"It was a quick-fix programming concept that worked well," said Doug Seay, senior VP-director of national broadcast for Publicis & Hal Riney Co. "They are not making money, but they are losing less."

Mr. Nesvig admitted that little inventory will be available for sale. "We'll figure out a way to sell something to someone if they really need it," he said.

"This is a Band-Aid for Fox," said Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of audience research for Horizon Media, New York. "The flip side is that it's not that expensive to produce and it attracts a young audience."

Unlike Fox's hit, "American Idol," the chance to air a sequel to "Joe Millionaire" is limited. The show is based on a deception that is now well-known: 20 women vie for a bachelor who, they are told, has just inherited millions. In fact, he is a $19,000-a-year construction worker.

When "Joe Millionaire" concludes, Fox will put another reality show in the same time slot, "Married by America." Singles will be introduced and paired up via voting from home viewers.

Fox also is pinning its hopes on "American Idol 2," which starts Jan. 21, and has signed on three major marketing partners, including newcomer AT&T Wireless (See story, P. 4). Coca-Cola Co. and Ford Motor Co. will return. Others include Gap Inc.'s Old Navy and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Clairol Herbal Essences.

overall slump

Fox's overall prime-time ratings season-to-date are down 12.5% among adults 18-49 through Dec. 30. Household ratings are down 11.5%. Fox's prime-time problems include "The Bernie Mac Show," down 28% in ratings; "Boston Public," off 27%; "Malcolm in the Middle," 22% lower, and "That '70's Show," down 11%. And Fox aired three of the four lowest-rated World Series games ever played.

Shows that performing well include "24," up 21%, "King of the Hill," up 32%, and "The Simpsons," up 6.5%.

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