Analysis: Fox wounded, but not because of News Corp crisis

Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:51pm EDT
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By Paul Thomasch and Lisa Richwine

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After a summer of scandal, the spotlight has shifted from News Corp's phone hacking crisis to its entertainment business, where its TV network and movie studio are searching for fresh hits to meet sky-high expectations.

Fox's tentpole shows -- "Glee," "The X Factor," and "Terra Nova" -- debuted this month to audience figures that fell short of Hollywood's expectations, partly due to out-sized ratings hopes and partly to the highly competitive, fragmented TV landscape that has made business tough for all the networks.

For "Terra Nova," believed to have cost Fox about $20 million for the first episode and featuring Steven Spielberg among a roster of a dozen big-name producers, the ratings bar was set extremely high.

But the premiere episode pulled in only half as many viewers as the 20.5 million that tuned into "Two and a Half Men" on CBS the same night, putting it in danger of being labeled an underachiever.

The premiere of "The X Factor," which creator Simon Cowell predicted would match the 20 million-plus viewers that his former show, "American Idol," regularly generates, only drew 12.1 million viewers in its premiere.

As soon as the ratings came in, the questions began: can "The X Factor" live up to its hype? Will "Terra Nova" make economic sense? Can "Glee" return to the success of its first season?

"You could look at it as the glass is either half full or half empty," Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at advertising firm Horizon Media, said of Fox's initial ratings results. "They are doing better than they did last year at this time. But I think they were expecting that they'd be doing even better."

Fox's first week may have disappointed some, but it was hardly a disaster. After the initial week of the 2011-12 season, Fox trailed CBS in total viewers but was the top network among the 18- to 49-year-olds most prized by advertisers.   Continued...