‘Empire’s’ Growth Spurt Fueled by Young Women, Urban Markets

Timbaland Empire Fox

In music biz terms, Fox’s “Empire” is zooming up the charts with a bullet.

On Wednesday the family soap centered on a hip-hop musical mogul continued its unprecedented growth streak by gaining audience for a seventh straight week, hitting 13.9 million. No series in the history of Nielsen’s People Meters (going back to 1991) had grown with the first five episodes following its premiere, and “Empire” has now bested that by two weeks.

The 20th Century Fox TV/Imagine TV drama stunned the industry with its Jan. 7 premiere, which averaged a 3.8 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 and 9.9 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. It built on its lead-in, the season premiere of “American Idol,” by 32% in  adults 18-34 and logged the net’s top premiere score in this demo in six years.

And it’s only gotten bigger since. “Empire” is part of the ratings boom this season for series that feature diverse casts and exec producers — as exemplified by ABC’s success with comedies “Blackish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” and drama “How to Get Away With Murder.” But “Empire’s” audience is so big that it is clearly a big-tent hit with broad viewership across a range of demographics.

In adults 18-49, it has grown in six of the last seven weeks, with Wednesday night’s rating (5.4) — a monster 42% build on its premiere — the top score for a regularly scheduled broadcast drama since ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” in the fall of 2010.

The biggest growth spurt for “Empire” has come in women 18-34, in which last night’s rating (6.2) was 68% larger than its premiere rating (3.7).

“Empire” figures to once again rank as the week’s top-rated broadcast series in adults 18-49, having leapfrogged CBS vet “The Big Bang Theory” for the first time last week. And for the season, “Empire” is on track to finish as broadcast television’s No. 1 drama; only AMC’s “The Walking Dead” rates higher.

(Fox estimates that in the month since the “Empire” pilot aired, it has been watched by 22.6 million when all time-shifting and viewership on other nonlinear platforms are included.)

“Empire” is being driven by a young, urban audience and is faring especially well in many of the nation’s biggest cities.

Among the top 12 markets, Wednesday’s episode of “Empire” won in the 18-49 demo in every one but Boston. The top scores in those cities came from Atlanta (14.9 rating/29 share), Detroit (9.2/24), Washington, D.C. (7.8/23), Cleveland (7.5/17) and New York (7.3/20) — all well above the show’s national average of 6.0/17.

Roughly two-thirds of those age 2 and older watching “Empire” last Wednesday night (66.9%) were African-Americans. It joins ABC’s Thursday tandem of “Scandal” (42% African-American) and newcomer “How to Get Away Murder” (41%) as broadcast dramas in which more than 4 in 10 viewers are black.

In addition to “How to Get Away With Murder,” ABC has also added two solid comedies featuring minority leads (“Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat”) this season while its “Cristela” has fared decently on Fridays. CW, meanwhile, has garnered critical accolades and is slowly building an audience for its comedic hour “Jane the Virgin.”

All of these series are delivering a younger skew than other shows on their networks, which only makes sense based on U.S. Census data.

According to Nielsen’s calculation of the 116 million-plus TV homes in the U.S. this season, whites make up 75% of the nation’s 50-and-older population, but they comprise 59.3% of the adults 18-49 pie — down from 63.5% just five years ago.

African-Americans make up 14.2% (up from 13.3%) and Asian-Americans have jumped to 5.6% (from 5.0), but the biggest growth spurt has come among Hispanics, which have grown from 17.6% to 20.1% of the country’s TV-viewing population.

In addition to the two-thirds of its audience that is black, “Empire” has also dominated in the top-10 Texas markets of Dallas (7.2 local rating in 18-49/19 share last night) and Houston (7.0/18), where Hispanics make up more than 40% of the population.

In fact, with about 10% of its audience Hispanic, “Empire” ranks as the season’s No. 1 new series and No. 1 broadcast drama overall with Hispanic (English-language) adults 18-49 and 18-34.

The median age for “Empire” last night was 43.5, making it the night’s youngest-skewing program on the Big Four. The net’s “Gotham” is the only other current drama on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox this season to consistently have a median age under 50.

Another indication of just how big “Empire” has become is that while roughly 63% of its 18-49 audience is female, it also ranks as the season’s No. 1 new series in men 18-49.

“Empire” is benefiting from increasingly strong buzz in social media. Based on Nielsen Social Guide and Twitter metrics, “Empire” now has the highest average number of tweets per episode during its live airings (381,770) than any other broadcast drama this season — overtaking ABC’s “Scandal” (355,012).

And last night’s episode generated a record 714,742 social comments.

Ratings for primetime shows tend to drift downward with the onset of Daylight Saving Time (which starts March 8), so “Empire’s” growth streak could come to an end before its March 18 finale. But at this point, you’d be crazy to bet against it.

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  1. Chinyere says:

    Empire is the most delicious tv show I’ve ever seen. It’s grounded with multi-dimensional characters that are believable. Lucious is just a gangster in designer suits, while Cookie is a street-wise powerhouse and a caring mother who happens to be more knowledgable than most of the suits running Empire. I hope the creators of this great show don’t make the mistake of drawing it out to the extent that it becomes a bore. I reckon four seasons will do. Best to bow out when the ovation is at its loudest. Awesome job, Timberland.

  2. Mama Grizzly says:

    I, too, hope that the show does not become cliche and fall into tired stereotypes of the black community. If the writers understand that the characters need to change and grow and maybe de-evolve in some instances then the show will stay good. The show is cutting edge and sometimes executives and producers get caught up on the ‘buzz’ and the hype and they lose their perspective. I hope that this production team has a good source to keep connected to real people in every day life, their viewers.
    Just about every night time soap opera that existed went too far and presented a plot line that killed their viewership, meaning the viewers tuned out and never tuned back in. Pam Ewing asleep for a whole year in Dallas, the Moldavian massacre on dynasty, the business with a baby and the cliff on Falcon Crest, and Morgan Fairchild’s character on Flamingo Road damn near killing herself to break up Mark Harmon’s character’s romance with Lane Ballou (I think that was her name).

  3. michael Anthony says:

    It’s a fun and entertaining show, BUT, cliches are beginning to pop up. Like the two women being caught in a kiss that goes viral. I know it’s a soap, but there is so much good in it, that I hope they don’t ruin it and follow the disastrous oath of so many other good shows. Glee was actually fun, but within a year, it became ludicrous.

    • anthonia helms. says:

      I enjoy the show very much, looking forward to see what happened next week episode. please do not expand the line of gay men. laeve it as it is. continue the good work

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