Pasadena, Calif. – In a newsy executive session at the TCA Winter Press Tour, Gary Newman and Dana Walden, chairmen and CEOs of Fox Television Group, announced renewals for Empire and Scream Queens and elaborated on their strategic shift toward delayed viewing.
In a polished and poised session that followed a lively X-Files TCA reunion, the pair touted their successes but also spoke candidly about missteps and how they are responding to dramatic changes in the TV landscape.
“Welcome to Day 11 of the TCA hostage crisis,” Newman quipped in taking the podium. After delivering the news about Scream Queens, which came as a mild surprise given the show’s feeble live-same day ratings thus far, he put two slides on the screen to illustrate its viewership profile.
“This young and upscale audience is watching the show on their own terms,” Newman said. Fox data shows that 30% of viewers watch live, 26% via DVR and the remaining 44% on VOD as well as ad-supported streaming platforms such as Hulu and Fox Now. Roughly 62% of viewing occurs outside the same-day period.
Asked how advertisers are responding to the network emphasizing delayed viewing, Newman said discussions with them “are improving quite a bit. … There’s general movement and recognition that delayed viewing is part of the contemporary experience.”
Even so, he went on, “Monetizing non-Nielsen rated viewing remains a challenge. Advertisers, understandably, want a reliable currency and we’re working on that.” One solution, he said, is selectively looking for ways to co-brand shows in order to guarantee visibility for brands.
A related topic surfaced later in the Q&A with press: that of Fox opting last fall to discontinue its reporting of live-same day Nielsen ratings and instead begin reporting with live-plus-three days.
“At about the same time we made our announcement, [CBS chief] Les Moonves said at a Wall Street conference that live-same day ratings were nearly irrelevant,” Newman said. “We don’t feel like we’re out on a limb.”
Both Newman and Walden spoke about the hypocrisy of continuing to pump out overnight ratings and jockey for press attention around them when, they asserted, “no decisions” across the company are made based on them. From dealings with talent to advertisers to partners around the world, they said, delayed metrics come first. “We felt for our company that it wasn’t a relevant conversation to talk about the overnights,” Walden said. In terms of publicity (where Walden’s career began), the move has brought “the good with the bad. We’re not calling (the press) about Empire or American Idol, but neither are we calling about Scream Queens or our comedies.”
In announcing the renewal of Empire, Walden rattled off some impressive stats on the juggernauts first year on air. The hip-hop soap averages a stout 22 million viewers a week across platforms. Walden also noted that the non-linear audience alone for the show “surpasses the primetime average viewership of every cable network, including ESPN.”
Both chairmen also addressed their decision to discontinue reporting overnight ratings and said they liberated and no longer “hypocritical” by complaining about measurement while also jockeying for press attention around ratings.
Development spending at Fox has risen 30%, Walden noted, especially with American Idol’s imminent end (and at some point that of the long-running Bones) creating gaps in the schedule. Among the shows in the pipeline are a Prison Breakevent series and a pilot order for a sequel to 24 that won’t star Kiefer Sutherland. Fox has also boosted its live-musical quotient, drafting off the success of Empire and, previously, Glee. Grease Live, The Passion and Rocky Horror Picture Showare all on deck for 2016.
The X-Files session left a strong impression that a second round for the show, whose return this month is just for six episodes. “We would be onboard if schedules can be worked out,” Newman said.