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Forget September—February Is the Modern Age

There's a refrain everyone in syndication repeats with a knowing nod when off-net sitcoms are launched: Wait until February before you judge how a show is really doing.

Well, it’s February, so it’s time to take another close look at Twentieth’s Modern Family, an Alist sitcom that launched last September after being sold for closeto- record-setting pricing in 2010.

Modern Family’s performance suffers when compared to Warner Bros.’ ratings whopper, The Big Bang Theory. Big Bang premiered in September 2010 to a 4.5 live-plus-same-day household rating, according to Nielsen, while Modern Family opened last September to a comparable 4.1.

By the first week of the 2011 February sweeps, Big Bang had climbed to a syndicationleading 7.6. By comparison, in the week ended Feb. 9, Modern Family hit a series high 5.2. While that’s enough to make MF syndication’s second-highest-rated off-net sitcom, it pales in comparison to Big Bang’s first-year growth.

Big Bang, however, is a rare phenomenon in TV. On CBS in its seventh season, Big Bang is averaging nearly 24 million viewers season-todate compared to Modern Family’s 14.7 million viewers on ABC, and Bang is the top-ranked scripted entertainment show in primetime, even in repeats. That performance makes it hard to fairly compare it to anything else.

Modern Family is in the top two out of 22 shows; to me, that’s a win,” says Chuck Larsen, president of consulting company October Moon Television. MF routinely beats sitcom stalwarts such as Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men and Twentieth’s Family Guy.

Room to Grow on Fox TV Stations

On its broadcast launch group, Fox Television Stations, Modern Family grew to a 1.4 among adults 25-54 in the first week of February, up from a 1.0 last September. While MF is showing strong growth, it is still underperforming Big Bang, which it replaced in several Fox markets.

On Fox’s WNYW New York, where Modern Family supplanted Big Bang at 7:30 p.m., the show is averaging a 2.3 rating/4 share in households, compared to Big Bang’s 2.7/5 last year. On the other hand, on Fox’s WTTG Washington, D.C., at 7:30 p.m., Modern Family is averaging a 3.0/5 compared to Big Bang’s 2.6/5.

Moreover, moving Big Bang to its duopoly stations has allowed Fox to double time-period performance in several MyNetworkTV markets.

“Stations are getting great value out of Modern Family,” says Paul Franklin, Twentieth executive VP/GM, broadcast sales. “In both access and late fringe, it’s moving in the right direction. And in February, the show hit new highs across the board, including all of the demographics.”

Climbing on USA

Although much noise was made early on about Modern Family’s tenuous performance on USA Network (which paid an estimated $1.4 million per episode for the show), it’s been quietly improving. In households, Modern Family opened on USA to an average 992,000 viewers across the network’s 18 weekly runs of the show. By February, that number had grown to an average of nearly 1.8 million viewers.

USA credits the show with bringing a younger, more educated and more affluent audience to the network. The net says its viewers’ median age has dropped by 11 years since the sitcom premiered and viewers’ median income is increasing by $10,000 annually. USA also says it’s one of only two top cable networks— AMC is the other—to have expanded its reach this season, and USA attributes that at least partly to the arrival of Modern Family. USA is now the No. 5 cable network among adults 18-49, up from ninth, and it’s the sixth among adults 25-54, up from eighth.

That young, affluent audience is a big part of Modern Family’s appeal with advertisers, says Michael Teicher, Twentieth executive VP of media sales. It also has a strong multicultural appeal that advertisers covet. “We couldn’t be happier with the show’s performance,” says Teicher. “Probably the single most outstanding element about it is that it’s delivering [strong] ratings against multicultural millennials, especially English-speaking Hispanics.”

Modern Family is the second-highest-rated show on television among English-dominant Hispanics aged 18-34, just a tenth of a ratings point behind Twentieth’s Family Guy, and it’s the highest-rated show among English-dominant Hispanics aged 18-49.

“All chief marketing officers are concerned with that demographic,” Teicher says.