Fox: Rice Launches Assault on Cable

In his first public comments since moving from the film business to television, new Fox Broadcasting Chairman of Entertainment Peter Rice touted TV in general and delivered much of the artillery in the network's group assault on cable. “TV is the most powerful medium ever invented,” Rice said on a conference call with reporters.

“Broadcast TV continues to reign supreme,” he added during Fox's presentation at New York City Center May 18, marking the first time in recent history that Fox kicked off upfront week. He pointed to TNT's The Closer as an example of a show that is a huge success by cable standards but whose viewership is eclipsed by some 75 shows on broadcast TV.

Ad Sales President Jon Nesvig amplified Rice's point, with graphics illustrating broadcast TV's powerful ROI. “Speed is important, and size does matter,” he said during the presentation.

Fox executives touted the network's stability and No. 1 position—Fox will finish this season on top in 18-49s for the fifth straight year. However, the network continues to change things up a bit with the schedule. Fox is using its returning shows as a platform to launch four new comedies, including a “family comedy block” on Friday, and two new drama series, Past Life and Human Target. The dramas will launch behind American Idol in midseason.

“We could have had even higher ratings if we had left a couple of things alone,” acknowledged Entertainment President Kevin Reilly on the rescheduling of House and Bones to lead positions on Mondays and Thursdays, respectively. Reilly said, however, that those moves were made to ensure the shows could become building blocks of the future.

On Friday nights, Fox is pushing its investment in scripted programming—something that advertisers generally prefer over reality. Executives also see an opening for Fringe on Thursdays, despite slotting it against CBS' CSI and ABC's Grey's Anatomy. “Thursday is more open than it's ever been,” Reilly says.

Reilly would not predict any audience numbers or reveal his ratings hopes for new musical comedy Glee, which got a preview following American Idol last week, calling it “the largest grass-roots screening in history.” Glee managed a 4.3 rating (10.7 million viewers) out of an 8.8 rating lead-in from the penultimate episode of Idol, according to preliminary ratings provided by Nielsen. That is respectable but not exactly the “largest grass-roots” premiere Fox executives were hoping for. More troubling was that Glee declined to a 3.7 rating (8.9 million viewers) in its second half-hour.

Nesvig and Reilly also detailed a new advertising format called Alive Air that is aimed at retaining viewers through breaks. Reilly described it as something created by show producers to experiment with different elements.

Fox also will continue to offer Remote Free TV, in which the network offered advertisers the chance to avoid cluttered ad breaks in Dollhouse and Fringe in return for a 35%-40% premium. This season, it will be offered on a custom basis on individual episodes of any show.