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.
JANUARY 2012 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:
Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / January 2012 vs. January 2011 (% Change)
Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample
JANUARY 2012: FX was one of just a handful of networks to enjoy double digit ratings growth in 2011, and so it comes as a blow to see adult 18-49 primetime audiences dropping by 18% vs. January 2011, with double-digit declines for both men and women. Compared to December, total primetime’s men 18-49 ratings held steady as women dropped by 23%.
Towards the end of 2011, women started flocking to FX, actually giving the male-dominated gritty network a 50/50 male-female skew. But without AMERICAN HORROR STORY and holiday movies women were left without programming to tune into. In fact, the two boxing specials and the two animated comedies on Thursday nights had women turning away. The only program with an even male/female skew was HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, with just four telecasts this month. FX’s total primetime skew is back to 56% male.
This year, as opposed to last January, there were no super heroes to save ratings at the end of the day. Last year’s broadcasts of Iron Man and Incredible Hulk comprised the top 7 telecasts among men 18-49. This year’s top ranking telecasts were Taken and 2012, which did not come close to last year’s blockbuster movies. An exciting football season this January is partially to blame, in addition to the less exciting titles.
Charlie Sheen’s bad boy appeal seems to have worn off with both men and women. Compared to last year TWO AND A HALF MEN dropped 27% of men 18-49 and 29% of women 18-49. Movies continue to dominate FX, but MEN has a solid presence with 28 telecasts this month, and the audience burn-out is affecting the bottom line.
Alternately, JUSTIFIED was back this month and it rose to the top of the ratings charts, but just two telecasts weren’t enough to help boost total ratings. Compared to the season two March premiere, this January’s season three premiere month average fell just 5% short among core men 18-49.
On Thursdays, ARCHER was back this month, improving ratings by 10% from where it ended its three-episode preview last September. ARCHER’s ratings are about the same as December’s IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, the program it replaced in the Thursday night line-up at 10PM. At 10:30PM UNSUPERVISED followed, but the audience did not, dropping 10% of ARCHER’s men 18-49 audience in week one and 43% in week two. The average program rating for UNSUPERVISED comes in right at the network’s average primetime rating; ahead of the movie average, TWO AND A HALF MEN and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, but below boxing, ARCHER and JUSTIFIED.
And so it was a shaky start to the new year. The network needs some traction to get back to last year’s levels.