As the first edition of the vociferously ballyhooed talent
show The X Factor comes to a close,
Fox affiliates are expressing gratitude to the network for giving them two
nights a week of robust viewing this season, and enlivening a typically soft
part of their schedule.
While X Factor
fell well short of lofty viewership predictions by, most notably, Simon Cowell,
affiliates say a more fair comparison is one against the competition on other
networks -- and Fox's prime in previous autumns.
"We have 13 weeks of another hit show to sell -- it's Christmas for three
months," says Mark Metzger, vice president and general manager of KLSR Eugene.
"Then we have [American Idol]
for five-plus months."
X Factor represents one of the most
hyped shows in TV history, Fox execs clearly confident they had another Idol-esque cultural event on their
hands. The promotion on the British import started early. In February, Foxflew out promotions employees from its affiliates body to Southern
California for what it called XPEC (a play on FPEC, or Fox Promotion Executive
Conference), where representatives from 145 affiliates got a peek at the show,
and hints on how to maximize promotions for it.
Prior to its fall debut, Cowell famously predicted 20 million viewers a night
for X Factor. The show premiered to a
4.2 rating in adults 18-49 demo, well below the 8.3 that American Idol averaged for its 10th season. The debut drew 12.1
million viewers, less than half of what Idol
averaged last season.
Cowell's prediction-he later backtracked, saying 20 million was more of a goal
than a likely outcome -- fueled unrealistic expectations, though many on the
affiliate side chalk it up to Simon being Simon, and credit him for his
unwavering boosterism in his programs. "The numbers have not met
expectations to our buyers, but we're still pleased with the numbers,"
says Tommy Schenck, vice president and general manager at WRAZ Raleigh, which
had the top X Factor premiere of any
Fox affiliate in a metered market.
What's been key about X Factor, say
affiliates, is that the show injects life into a perennially weak fourth
quarter for numerous affiliates -- no Idol,
and Major League Baseball post-season games wreaking havoc on the schedule. X Factor, like Idol, commands entire-family viewing, youthful demographics and a
lively social media component. "The numbers are a heckuva lot better than
previous years," says one Fox affiliate veteran in a Top 25 market.
"It wasn't quite what we hoped for, but compared to last year, it's very
Now all eyes turn to the next installment of American Idol. The ratings colossus defied a downward Nielsen trend
last season, but if it shows softness in 2012, critics will blame X Factor for contributing to talent show
fatigue across America.
Several Fox affiliates believe X Factor's
producers successfully made the show distinctive from its forefather, and say
the time between X's December 21-22
finale and American Idol's Jan. 18
season premiere will give viewers a chance to build up a fresh crave for
unknown singing talent and high wattage judges.
Some suggest that X Factor's presence
on the airwaves this fall might even end up being a good thing for Idol, because viewers will appreciate Idol's now familiar format after having
to follow an X Factor competition
that some call complicated, and because Idol's
ultra competitive producers will be inspired to outdo the rookie upstart.
"If they get into a one up between Idol
and X Factor, bring it, that's
fine," says Kevin Kolbe, creative services director at WRAZ.
X Factor's performance comes on the
heels of a particularly fractious time for network-affiliate relations, with
Fox pushing hard for a big chunk of partner stations' retransmission cash, and
the affiliates wanting bona fide big-tent programming in return. (Fox
affiliates board chairman Brian Brady did not return calls seeking comment
about X Factor.)
Affiliates largely give Fox credit for being a solid, if demanding, partner.
"There's plenty to bitch about, but Fox, while tough negotiators, are good
at what they do," says one East Coast Fox affiliate who asked not to be
identified. "They put their money where their mouth is."
Indeed, the promising rookie performances of Terra Nova, New Girl and X Factor give most affiliates good cheer
heading into the holidays. "Those are three nice new shows in the fall,
where we are grateful to even get one," says Mark Metzger. "I love X Factor and I love the network for
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.