While accounting for a small percentage of the primetime line-up, original series are a key component of FX's schedule and brand identity. Original series help to set the conversation, but movies still comprise the bulk of the programming and the ratings.
Most cable networks air the majority of their original signature series in the less competitive summer months, but FX likes to play in the pond with the broadcast networks, heavying up on originals in September and January. FX blatantly bucks the cable trend of launching and showcasing marquee programming in the summertime, typically running just one or two hours of originals over the course of the summer.
When originals are on the air they tend to run mid-week, Monday through Thursday, and always at 10PM for content reasons. However, the door has been opened to moving a drama such as JUSTIFIED to the 9PM slot, thereby creating a companion programming strategy for dramas.
Last year FX added TWO AND A HALF MEN to the primetime line-up; the first time an acquired off-net comedy ran in primetime in a few years (THAT '70s SHOW was once a Friday night staple). The program is not used as a strip, but acts a two-hour comedy block on Thursdays and Saturdays. TWO AND A HALF MEN also runs in daytime / early fringe along with some other acquired sitcoms (MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, THE BERNIE MAC SHOW). The program met with success, and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER joined the line-up this fall.
DECEMBER 2011 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / December 2011 vs. Dember 2010 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
DECEMBER 2011: 2011 was a banner year for FX, as it was one of a small handful of networks to improve primetime ratings by double digits. FX grew men 18-49 by 18% and women 18-49 by 16% over 2010. Even with the increasing audience size, FX kept its median age below 40. The beginning of 2011 did not look very promising for FX as it faced the failure of TERRIERS and the increasing practice of time-shifting, but by the end of the year the net had a new hit on its hands and was running full steam ahead.
This December FX adult 18-49 ratings were pacing 13% ahead of last year. That growth can be attributed to the recent influx of women viewers. While women 18-49 ratings climbed 28% vs. last year, men 18-49 ratings edged up by just 3%. It was the second month in a row with an even male/female viewership for FX, a network that has historically focused its gritty genre of programming on male viewers. Only Tuesday (SONS OF ANARCHY) and Thursday (comedy night) had a decided male skew this month. Wednesday nights’ women 18-49 audience nearly doubled vs. last year with a 91% increase in ratings (AMERICAN HORROR STORY), while Friday night movies jumped 78%.
Movies with a female appeal certainly played a role in the newly feminine FX. Top rated titles for women 18-49 were of the family-friendly / chick-flick variety: Alvin & The Chipmunks; Zombieland; Ice Age 3; Twilight; The Proposal….wait, what was that second one? Zombieland?? It led into Wednesday night’s new, female-skewing break-out program, AMERICAN HORROR STORY. Looks like FX is tapping into the darker side of its female viewers.
Together, AMERICAN HORROR STORY and SONS OF ANARCHY dominated FX’s ratings. Tuesday night’s SONS OF ANARCHY was the better rated of the two. It grew slightly from its November numbers, while climbing 15% on women 18-49 vs. last year. Still, the program is nearly two-thirds male. Interestingly, part two of its season finale performed slightly below the previous week’s part one.
Wednesday's AMERICAN HORROR STORY dropped some women and more men vs. last month. earning a 40/60 male/female audience in December. While household and male audiences gave the show a bump for its December 21st finale, the program fell among women with each successive week as Christmas approached. Either grim stories don’t play out with the backdrop of the holidays, or women were too busy to watch. Either way, there must be a lesson to be learned in there somewhere.
Thursday nights started with a two hour block of TWO AND A HALF MEN, followed by IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA in its seventh season and THE LEAGUE, in its third season. Average ratings for Thursday nights didn’t move very much vs. last year or last month, but TWO AND A HALF MEN has begun to drop men after a nice ride fueled by Charlie Sheen’s press. SUNNY and LEAGUE show growth on women, but their core audience remains men, while (ironically) MEN has a more even skew. In fact, while MEN has a much higher household audience, both LEAGUE and SUNNY topped it on men 18-49 ratings this month. Of note, in the last week of December, LEAGUE’s two-part finale tanked without SUNNY as a lead-in, making us question whether the program can stand on its own.
FX’s newest acquisition, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER was not on the primetime line-up this month. Last month it underperformed the network average in its spot as a lead-in to the Friday night movie. Next month it has limited primetime plays.
With the books closed on 2011, it’s time to look ahead. 2012 promises to bring more from FX – many of its series are just hitting their prime. Several new programs are slated for debut, and AMERICAN HORROR STORY returns, with a whole new plotline and a whole new cast.