Screen Wars

Could Gotham improve Fox ratings?

Stan Alcorn Sep 22, 2014
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Screen Wars

Could Gotham improve Fox ratings?

Stan Alcorn Sep 22, 2014
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Fox’s ratings are in free fall. Last season, the network averaged about half the viewers of CBS. Without big football games to shore up its ratings, the network is looking for a hit. 

“I think it’s very important,” says Horizon Media Research Director Brad Adgate. ” Television is still a hit driven business and they need a hit.”

One potential bright spot in the darkness is “Gotham”, a dramatic Batman prequel. The Television Critics Association has named it the season’s “most promising series.” “It’s exciting. It’s a little scary,” says TCA treasurer and TV critic Jacqueline Cutler. “I will be absolutely gobsmacked if this is not Fox’s huge hit of the year.”

But critics have been gobsmacked before, and Fox needs more than a critical darling. The network has struggled since the heyday of American Idol, which regularly helped FOX come from behind to lead with the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. “They did that [for] eight straight seasons, which is unprecedented in the annals of television,” Adgate says. “You know, they can’t rely on that anymore.”

It’s a particularly tall order at a time when network television as a whole, is losing ground to cable television. “Network TV at this point is less than a third of the national TV advertising market. Cable is two times bigger,” says Brian Wieser, media analyst at Pivotal Research. 

“In that context a decline in ratings at Fox shouldn’t be that surprising.”

So Fox is betting big on “Gotham”, and entering the market for superheroes while the getting is good. The CW found enough success with another DC show, “Arrow”, that it’s doubling down this season with a lighter spin-off about the Flash. But the CW generally gets lower ratings than other broadcast networks, and a smash there — “Arrow” usually pulls in around 3 or 4 million viewers — just won’t hold up on the big four.

The Marvel series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a solid hit for ABC, but couldn’t hold onto the nearly 12 million who tuned in for its massive debut. ABC brought the show back and added another, “Agent Carter”. But in all, the field is going to be a lot more crowded. NBC also has a DC show, “Constantine” on Friday nights this fall, and juggernaut CBS just ordered a “Supergirl” series.

Gotham premieres tonight at 8 p.m. eastern, but with Hulu and DVR, analysts say we won’t know the real ratings for another week.

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