Fox needs a ratings rally

Short series leaves net wanting

One year after boffo postseason baseball numbers propelled the net to its first season victory among young adults, Fox will have to rally this time after the White Sox-Astros World Series drove in soft numbers.

Wednesday’s fourth and final game of this season’s Fall Classic delivered the best numbers for any baseball contest this fall, but they pale in comparison with last year’s Red Sox-Cardinals four-game set. When it’s all added up, this year’s Series between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros goes down as the lowest-rated on record.

According to in-home viewing estimates provided by Nielsen, the White Sox’s 1-0 clinching victory Wednesday averaged a 6.6 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and 19.98 million viewers overall — dominating the primetime competish.

This is down 34% in 18-49 from last year’s Boston-St. Louis game 4 (10.0/26) and off 12% from the 2003 Game 4 between the Florida Marlins and New York Yankees (7.5/22). It is up 10% from the 2002 game 4 between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants (6.0/16).

In overall viewership, this year’s World Series averaged 17.2 million viewers, off 32% from last year (25.4 million) and 5% below the 18.1 million for the New York Yankees-New York Mets matchup in 2000, which had been the least watched of all time.

World Series viewing in the home markets actually surpassed last year’s levels. In Chicago, Fox averaged 1.32 million homes for this year’s games, compared to 1.22 million in Boston a year ago. Fox’s Houston affil averaged 800,000 homes compared to 540,000 in St. Louis last year.

Baseball is hardly a drain on Fox’s season averages, as the 4.1 rating in adults 18-49 for postseason action this fall is close to the average that won last season for the net. Still, comparisons with the gaudy baseball numbers of a year ago mean Fox is more than 25% behind its 18-49 pace of a year ago heading into November.

From an entertainment series standpoint, though, Fox has a stronger foundation to work from.

Young comedies “War at Home” and “American Dad” have solidified the net’s Sunday lineup, and Fox’s drama bench is stronger than it’s been in years. “Prison Break” and “Bones” have contributed nicely this fall, “The OC” is solid Thursday, and “House” and “24” are proven hits.

Even if the net’s big gun, “American Idol,” finally slows when it returns in January, the net should be competitive with ABC and CBS for a run at the season’s 18-49 title.

Opposite the World Series on Wednesday, ABC aired its first repeat this season of “Lost” (3.5/9 in 18-49, 9.06m), which was edged out for second place by a repeat of CBS rookie “Criminal Minds” (3.6/9, 12.78m).

The “Lost” aud appeared to have sampled other series in the 9 o’clock hour, as NBC’s “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” (3.0/7, 7.38m), UPN’s “Veronica Mars” (1.6/4, 3.58m) and the WB’s “Related” (1.3/3, 2.75m) hit season highs. “Related” will begin airing original episodes Monday (with repeats Wednesday) beginning next week.

An original seg of CBS’ “CSI: NY” (4.9/12, 15.31m) ran second to baseball at 10, ahead of ABC’s firstrun “Invasion” (3.7/9, 8.69m) and NBC’s repeat of “Law & Order” (3.0/7, 8.73m).

Although “Invasion” was down from its average this season with original “Lost” episodes as a lead-in, its perf Wednesday night was solid given the circumstances. It built on “Lost” by 6% in 18-49 and by 7% in 18-34.

In the night’s opening hour, ABC comedies “George Lopez” (3.1/9 in 18-49, 8.50m) and “Freddie” (3.4/9, 8.18m) were the top nonsports choice in demos. NBC’s “E-Ring” was down slightly week-to-week but at its second best score of the season (2.6/7 in 18-49, 8.73m), tying in 18-49 with UPN’s solid “America’s Next Top Model” (2.6/7, 5.48m).

“Model” led the hour in women 18-34 (4.9/14), helping UPN win Wednesday in that demo for the first time in the net’s history(3.9/10).

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