FX Analysis - September 2010

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SEPTEMBER 2010 PRIMETIME SCHEDULE:

* Bold denotes programming change

SCHEDULING STRATEGIES:

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 and the branding, 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 original 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.

This September, FX added TWO AND A HALF MEN to the primetime line-up; the first time an acquired off-net comedy has regularly run in primetime in a few years (THAT "70s SHOW was once a Friday night staple). 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).

SEPTEMBER 2010 PRIMETIME RATINGS ANALYSIS:

Live Primetime Ratings Comparison / September 2010 vs. September 2009  (% Change)

HH

M18-49

W18-49

Monday 8-11pm

14%

18%

-10%

Tuesday 8-11pm

-24%

-23%

-21%

Wednesday 8-11pm

-6%

7%

12%

Thursday 8-11pm

6%

14%

15%

Friday 8-11pm

0%

-2%

6%

Saturday 8-11pm

-13%

-6%

-25%

Sunday 8-11pm

--24%

-32%

20%

MTWTFSS 8-11pm

-10%

-8%

-10%

Source: The Nielsen Company's National Television Audience Sample

September 2010: Certainly the busiest month for FX this year, with the return of both its signature drama series SONS OF ANARCHY, and its signature sitcom IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, the launch of new original TERRIERS, the return of THE LEAGUE for a sophomore season, the season finale of RESCUE ME, and the return of off-net sitcoms to primetime with TWO AND A HALF MEN.

That's quite a slate for a network that ran just one drama series all summer. Summer 2010 was arguably the most crowded season for original cable series ever, but FX chose to strut its stuff in September, when the broadcast networks kick-off their new seasons with multi-million dollar promotional efforts. Was it all about posturing or does FX really think they have a better chance going against broadcast than cable? Let's see what the Nielsens reveal.

While ratings did pick up vs. August (men 18-49 ratings are up 18%) bottom-line ratings are off by about 10% compared to last year, back when SONS and SUNNY were basically the only non-movie fare on the air. Ouch! Most of that decline has to do with both SONS and prime movies dropping about a third of their core men 18-49 ratings.

Movies were spread thin this year with more programming to support - the top draws were not running in their usual Sunday night slot. Jumper on a Wednesday, Cloverfield on a Tuesday, Forgetting Sarah Marshall on a Thursday, SWAT on a Friday and The Day After Tomorrow on a Tuesday were the top-rated men 18-49 movie titles this year, Last year the majority of the top movies were on Sundays.

SONS OF ANARCHY with its edgy, gritty content and loyal following is a franchise unto itself, and has become the celebrated poster-child for FX dramas.  However, men 18-49 ratings are down 30% vs. last September. That is a fact that is completely ignored by FX in the press. Conveniently, FX isn't looking backwards, and its press releases point out that compared to the rest of cable, SONS OF ANARCHY ranks at the top of Tuesday nights on young male demos, besting even the broadcast fare. In the AHA! moment, FX was able to proclaim that SONS actually gained week-to-week audience on 9/21, when it went up directly against broadcast network season premieres. The show's performance is head and shoulders above the rest of the line-up, with ratings 30% ahead of the next highest rated program, and FX calls the show its highest-rated series ever.  And so, it comes as no surprise that FX announced a fourth season order half way through this third season, despite the audience fall-off. However, FX also announced there will be four encores, two in primetime (10PM on Fridays and Sundays). This does comes as a surprise; FX has made it a policy not to run primetime encores in years, realizing that movies generally pull in better numbers, and choosing not to over-expose their shows, a la Bravo. Could this be a make-good issue related to that 30% year-over-year drop? Back to the original theme, we can't help wondering how SONS would have fared in the summer, with less bragging rights but less broadcast competition.

On the positive side, Wednesdays (TERRIERS) and Thursdays (SUNNY and LEAGUE) did show solid year over year growth. In fact, SUNNY's sixth season premiere reached a series high, and according to FX, ranked as the #1 men 18-49 program in its timeslot on both cable and broadcast. Compared to last year, the program is delivering 8% better men 18-49 ratings, and an impressive 43% better men 25-54 ratings. These audience jumps might be attributed to the increased presence of SUNNY now that it is more widely run in syndication, as well as the increasing audience appetite for sharp, well-written comedies.

THE LEAGUE is coming in as the third best rated FX show on those key men 18-49. as it tends to drop nearly 20% of SUNNY's lead-in men. But it is still early to call, with just two outings in the volatile September ratings field.

TERRIERS debuted on Wednesday, September 8th. Between its first and third outing it dropped over half of its 18--49 audience, and on average, pulled in the lowest ratings on the net. In fact, the increased Wednesday night ratings have more to do with better-rated movies than with the launch of TERRIERS. Remember that TERRIERS was promoted in FX's advertiser upfront presentation as a less edgy program that is more in line with other cable fare. Is there a place for this genre on FX

RESCUE ME's second to last season concluded this month, with ratings that topped its August average, but were below last season's finale.

And finally, we get to TWO AND A HALF MEN. The off network comedy launched in FX primetime in a big way with a Labor Day marathon that was topped only by SONS in this month's top HH rated telecast list. The program ran 21 more times in primetime, making it the program with the biggest primetime presence. It is one of the few shows on the air to pull in 25-54 ratings that are higher than the 18-49 ratings, Nonetheless, so far it seems to be working as a solid lead-in to original comedies (SUNNY & LEAGUE), a growing genre on FX's development slate, and has found a permanent home on Friday nights.

CABLEU NEED TO KNOW:

FX is back in full force this September, with more non-theatrical programming in primetime than....ever? Despite all the new efforts and record-setting ratings, bottom-line audience is actually down from last year. But FX is all about image. Despite the fact that the vast majority of its programming is acquired theatricals, it is branded as an edgy producer of original programming. And despite the fact that it is a cable network, it prefers comparisons to broadcast, therefore launching its biggest and best in September, along with the broadcast nets.

The end result might be slightly smaller audiences, but definitely more cachet.

Comedies are the new growth area at FX, with a lot of success under its belt from the 09/10 season. Each of its comedies from the past 12 months - LOUIE, THE LEAGUE, and ARCHER were picked up for a second season. The network is on record that they plan to carry six to eight comedies in the future, and that a dozen originals in total would be their max. That means comedies will be at least half of the originals line-up.

What are they looking for in comedy? "What we want to do with comedies is very much what we did with dramas," said John Landgraf, FX President. "Put shows on the air that are really smart, really edgy and distinctive."  Good writing that helps showcase the star of the program is also key to the originals brand on FX.

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