Skip to comments.Fox Rules: A brash blend of TV news and entertainment is hot with viewers
Posted on 05/10/2003 6:47:16 PM PDT by Pokey78
The world won't know until May 21 whether Ruben, Clay, or Kimberley will ascend to celebrity nirvana, courtesy of American Idol. But the biggest winner has already been chosen: Fox Broadcasting. Thanks to Idol, as well as Joe Millionaire, Fox hijacked the February ratings "sweeps" and could run off with the May ones; it came very close to unseating NBC this season as the top destination for the 18-to-49-year-old crowd coveted by advertisers. This week, as the major broadcast networks gather in New York to unveil their lineups and sell commercial time for the fall season, Fox is expected to make the biggest gains, increasing its take by 16 percent over last year to $1.55 billion. That is more than double the growth rate of the overall market, which is expected to rise about 7 percent to $8.6 billion.
Such performance is the kind executives like to take out for a stroll around HQ. But these days it's tough to get a brag in edgewise at the Fox Entertainment Group, part of Rupert Murdoch's $18 billion media colossus, News Corp. In addition to Fox Broadcasting's prime-time accomplishments, the Fox News Channel trounced CNN to win the 24-hour cable news ratings war during the war in Iraq and is winning the peace as well. At cable networks FX and Fox Sports Net, subscribers and ratings are up strongly. And the movie studio Twentieth Century Fox not only broke the $1 billion mark at the box office last year for the first time but has also started off the summer with a $155 million worldwide opening for X-Men 2. That's the biggest global bow in film history. "It's weird," says News Corp.'s chief operating officer, Peter Chernin. "Everything seems to be clicking all at once."
But get ready for the encore. Murdoch, already the world's most powerful media mogul, is about to acquire DirecTV, the world's second-largest satellite network. The $6.6 billion purchase would give the Aussie multibillionaire the U.S. platform he has been seeking for years to distribute Fox news and entertainment.
In addition, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote next month to relax rules that limit media ownership. That will give Fox, which has been bumping up against the ownership ceiling in several markets where it has newspapers and local TV stations, even more room to grow. "Clearly, the company is firing on all cylinders," says independent media analyst Christopher Dixon, noting that Fox Entertainment's stock was the top media performer in 2002. "But it's still all about what comes next."
Right now, the network's prime-time success hinges almost exclusively on the performance of two shows, Idol and Millionaire. Without them, Fox would be last in the 18-to-49 category. The network, which is still in the red from the soft advertising market of the past two years, "desperately needs to find some successful half-hour comedies and hourlong dramas to cover the holes in its schedule," says Brad Adgate, a vice president at Horizon Media, a large ad-buying firm in New York. "It can't depend on reality TV" (box, Page 38).
That said, Fox, which brought the world When Animals Attack and Caught Red Handed: Cops' 15 Greatest Take Downs, has been masterful in using Idol for cross-promotion and leading viewers to other shows such as 24, The Bernie Mac Show, and That '70s Show, all of whose ratings have increased. Idol so seamlessly blends entertainment and marketing that it's hard to tell where the show stops and the commercials begin. In a recent episode, the Idols stormed the red carpet at the premiere of X-Men 2 (a Fox movie), hit the set of Boston Public (a Fox TV show), and performed their new Fox-backed single "What the World Needs Now." Kelly Clarkson, the first Idol winner, dropped by during a number by Justin Guarini (another Idol alum), who stars with her in the new Fox film From Justin to Kelly.
That barely left time for the paying advertisers, who are ponying up fees of $500,000 for a 30-second spot. "You can't survive in the marketplace without having one of these phenoms on your schedule," says Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group. "The danger is overdoing it."
Fox has had less success with shows such as Married by America (a bomb) and Mr. Personality, featuring Monica Lewinsky and a band of masked men who compete for the attention of a beautiful woman. Although the show opened big, ratings have steadily dropped off.
Conservative tilt. No such problems can be found at Fox News, which is No. 1 among cable news and only recently slipped out of the top spot among all cable networks during prime time. With its heavily conservative roster of talk-show hosts (Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly), it has been accused of being an extension of the Bush administration. Others have charged that Murdoch uses the network to butter up the Bush folks in return for favorable treatment from regulators.
But while Fox clearly does have more conservatives on air than CNN or MSNBC (a fact the network does not dispute), that alone does not explain its current popularity. "Fox News has figured how to move from news to an entertaining discussion of the news, full of shouting and loud opinions, without losing viewers," says Tim Brooks, the senior vice president for research at Lifetime Television. "The average CNN viewer drops in for 10 minutes and leaves; the average Fox viewer hangs around for 20 to 25 minutes."
Fox also has created so-called appointment television--not an easy accomplishment on a news network--where viewers tune in specifically to see, say, The O'Reilly Factor (the top cable news show with 4.6 million viewers nightly) as they once did for Larry King Live, now in sixth place with 2.7 million. Although the war coverage cost all the networks in advertising dollars, Fox's ad revenue is expected to climb 50 percent this year.
But all of that pales in comparison with what might be coming. The DirecTV deal will give Murdoch not only a U.S. platform and 11 million new subscribers to add to his growing worldwide network but also leverage that few can match in both the $72 billion pay-TV industry and in cable programming.
With a satellite network, Fox will have a protected outlet for its own programming, particularly sports. But Murdoch, who says the deal will create more than $700 million in savings, also will be able to wrangle better deals with the big cable companies whom Fox must pay for carriage of its programming. Murdoch can push them to give him a good price in return for distribution on DirecTV. "It is a transformative deal that will have an impact throughout the media business," says Dennis McAlpine, an entertainment analyst. "That's why Rupert has lusted after it for so long."
Bulking up. But deals of their dreams have been the undoing of media moguls before, and integrating DirecTV with News Corp.'s other properties will be no small task. "There's a big difference between looking at the company and actually being in there," says Chernin. "This is a huge, huge undertaking for us, and there's a lot to learn."
Fox may also be about to learn what it's like to be in even greater control of the national news appetite. Next month, the FCC is expected to lift the ban on cross-ownership between newspapers and television. Current restrictions forbid a company from owning two of the top television stations or a TV station and large daily newspaper in the same city. There also are bans on owning stations across the country that reach more than 35 percent of the national audience.
When it was suggested to Chernin that he might like to have any of the superhuman powers of the mutants in Fox's hit movie X-Men 2 to take the company into the future, he shied away from choosing among them. Perhaps that's because he knows that Fox will need them all.
We get to watch, participate by viewing and in general add to the destruction of CNNNBCABCCBSPBS, not to mention liberal pukes and the demise of the RAT party.
Mad Max-ine Waters was foaming at the mouth at Murdoch the other day. He's got her soiling her drawers in FEAR. Comin' atcha Maxy, thru your freakin' sattelite dish.
Now scurry along, Captain Dan!
You can go on home to your DU scum slum now Eye. Britt, et al are light years ahead of the DU/DNC Stalinist networks you must prefer. And as for digging their own grave, you musta missed the part about them crushing CNN in the ratings.
Go on home now and wail, moan and gnash your teeth.
Good call. I'll bet your broker calls you for advice now.
I am a shareholder in Newscorp, and proudly so. Brit Hume is the best journalist on television.
Now slink back to DU.
Beer and popcorn all around. Couldn't agree more with your predictions. This is gonna be downright FUN.
yes and no (it's not a journalist's job to demand Constitutional government). Who do you watch?
President Bush's successes and the attendant whining from the left have become FUN. I am constantly fascinated with how the "dumb cowboy" always manages to outmaneuver the slick pros inside the Beltway and the Euoweenies. Chirac and Schroeder don't look so smart right now, do they?
In addition, it is my considered belief that most of the things that we see in attacks on the President are instigated by the Clinton Mob, so it is even more gleeful to me knowing that those creeps have to keep going back to the drawing board.
President Bush has brough actual joy back into public life, as demonstrated by his carrier landing. We haven't seen that in a very, very long time. It is great fun!
Brit Hume is on television, he is not a journalist, he is a mouthpiece.