Fox packs ‘Super’ win

Big game gives net its highest-rated night

Super Bowl XXXI proved super for Fox Broadcasting on Sunday, providing the web with the highest-rated primetime night in its 10-year history.

The game earned a 43.3 rating and a 65 share based on fast national ratings from Nielsen Media Research, making it only the 17th-highest rated Super Bowl contest, still seen at least in part by a record 128.9 million viewers.

A 32-minute post-game show averaged a 29.8/46, and “The X-Files” episode that followed dropped to a 17.4/29, a record for the sci-fi series but only the fifth-best number for a Fox entertainment program.

The drop-off, while greater than NBC’s post-Super Bowl hourlong “Friends” episode last year, is consistent with other recent Super Bowls, and proved “a very satisfying audience hold coming out of an enormous event for television,” said Giles Lundberg, Fox’s senior VP-research and marketing. “We’re very pleased with the exposure of the show and expect to reap the rewards of that next Sunday” with higher ratings from the increased sampling.

For those not watching, the Green Bay Packers – in their first Super Bowl appearance since winning the first two bowls in 1967 and 1968 -defeated the New England Patriots, 35-21 in the New Orleans Superdome. The bowl game, played from 3:26 to 6:52 p.m., marked the first for Fox Sports, as part of a four-year, $1.58 billion rights package. The network snared a record $1.2 million for each of 58 30-second spots, again the most expensive buy on television.

Expectations met

Fox also had plenty of time to sell on an unprecedented four-hour pregame show, which averaged a 13.1/27.

While few industry execs were bowled over by advertisers’ creativity in what’s usually a showcase for award-worthy commercials, the buyers apparently got their money’s worth, as results came in as expected for a game that lacked the drawing power of the defending champion Dallas Cowboys.

“We were figuring without Dallas it would do somewhere between what the last two games had done,” said Steve Sternberg, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group. Preliminary figures show Sunday’s game was off 6% from the 46.1 earned by NBC last year (Dallas-Pittsburgh), but 5% ahead of the 41.3 posted by ABC in 1995 (San Francisco-San Diego).

The broadcast had its lowlights. In a bit of shameless self-promotion, Fox News Channel anchor Catherine Crier “interrupted” a promo for the upcoming halftime extravaganza featuring the Blues Brothers, promised an urgent news bulletin, then revealed that fictional Elvin Blues had escaped from an Illinois prison.

Fun stunt?

Several viewers were caught unaware by the stunt, and rival networks suggested the ploy, using a known news anchor to shill for an entertainment segment, was journalistically suspect.

But a spokesman at Fox Sports, which scripted the spot, dismissed the criticism, saying, “The whole thing was just to have fun.” Others suggested the fledgling news channel went along to gain huge primetime exposure.

Otherwise, coverage was viewed as neither exceptional nor embarrassing, although there were a couple of missed shots during key plays, and the NFL complained when announcer John Madden repeatedly criticized the Superdome’s air-conditioning system for inadequately clearing smoke from a fireworks display.

As expected, metered-market ratings for the home-team cities fared best, with Green Bay neighbor Milwaukee averaging a 59.5/83 and Boston a 55.5/73. In Los Angeles, KTTV did a 43.7/71, and in Gotham, WNYW scored a 39.3/57.

The gridiron matchup threw the other networks for a loss. Metered-market overnight ratings for the 7-11 p.m. primetime period had CBS in a distant second with an 8.0/12, ABC in third with a 5.9/9 and NBC fourth with a 5.5/8. The WB weblet earned a 2.7/4 in the 7-10 p.m. slot.

After the game, Fox Network head Rupert Murdoch expressed an interest in buying an NFL franchise for Los Angeles “if no one else steps forward.”

“We would love to see an NFC franchise in that market, not only for the NFL but for our owned and operated station there,” Murdoch said

‘We were figuring without Dallas it would do somewhere between what the last two games had done.

Steve Sternberg, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group

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