FX Touts Its Reach Advantage

As another upfront season approaches, FX wants media buyers to know that it has become the No. 2 cable network in reach among coveted 18-49 viewers.

While fundamental to building media plans, "reach" is a statistic that is rarely trumpeted by networks. It is also one that few buyers say they track on a regular basis.

Broadcast networks have greater reach than cable networks. That's one reason why they command higher ad rates. But a decade ago, Turner Broadcasting proved that buyers can achieve comparable reach less expensively by buying a combination of cable networks, and ad money has been moving to cable ever since.

But ask a media buyer about the last time they looked at a cable network's reach-which represents how many different people tune in per year, as opposed to how many are watching in an average minute-and the answer you get is never. According to one buyer, clients care about the reach over their entire schedule, not the reach of any individual network.

While buyers are aware of FX's ratings gains- up 21% last year-the fact that its reach trails only TBS (and tops general entertainment rivals TNT and USA) is a surprise to many. Any increase of reach in these days of fragmenting viewership is noteworthy. (The statistics come from FX's analysis of Nielsen data; Nielsen declined to provide its own reach data.)

"Think about all the networks that aren't measured, VOD, and people watching after seven days on their DVRs," says Julie Piepenkotter, FX senior VP for research. FX's reach growth stems from a strategy of having diverse programming: hit movies, off-network sitcoms, distinctive originals (American Horror Story has been attracting more young female viewers) and now sports with college football and the UFC.

Focusing on reach seems elementary and old-fashioned to some buyers who now have more sophisticated metrics they can use to gauge how well advertising performs.

"I think it's great that FX's reach is up. They're a big network that is part of our consideration set all the time," says Amy Sotiridy, senior VP, director of national broadcast at media agency Initiative. "It's more about the quality of their programming. They have fantastic originals that are highly sought after. They hit that 18-49-year-old demo everyone is trying to reach. Their ratings are good. Those are the first things that I'm going to look at, more than I'm looking at reach."

Initiative also uses a performance-related methodology based on client business objectives, whether it's selling cars for Kia or Elmo dolls for Hasbro. "We're gearing our plans and our objectives and our metrics and the research that we track to those business goals," she says.

Bruce Lefkowitz, executive VP for sales at Fox Cable Entertainment Networks, says that reach, while part of the group's upfront pitch, is not the whole story. "Our job is to make [buyers] aware of things that they might not be looking at on their own," he says. The reach numbers say FX has delivered on its promises of airing big movies, building a comedy block and developing distinctive originals. "We told you what we were going to do, and we hit it out of the park," Lefkowitz says.

The reach data also indicates that FX's increased viewership is coming at the expense of other networks. "If we continue to grow in basically a fragmented and fairly static marketplace, we're stealing that audience from somewhere else, and our hope is that similarly we can steal ad dollars from other places to make buys more effective," Lefkowitz adds.

The Fox Cable Entertainment sales chief concedes that buyers can still use other networks to achieve their reach goals. "All we're saying is that we hope that this gives them the opportunity to delve deeper, because when you get deeper into the research and you start to look at things like TRA [which links viewing to sales], IAG [which measures engagement], ad effectiveness and some of those metrics, then the story becomes even more compelling, we think," Lefkowitz says. "This is just a first step."

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.