Fox TV Group chiefs Gary Newman and Dana Walden used “Scream Queens” as a case study for sketching out the increasingly complex landscape of TV ratings during their presentation Friday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif.
Newman and Walden were quizzed about a host of programming questions — including the fact that the current season could be the last for “Bones” — and talked up what they said was a 30% increase in development spending this year to fill the void after “American Idol” bows out later this year.
Walden noted that the network has many more development projects in various stages of production than it would in a typical year. “We’ll need more shows than usual to fill those hours,” Walden said. Fox has been loading up on reboots: “Prison Break” is returning next season and a pilot for a new spin on “24” without Jack Bauer is in the works.
Those shows give the network a leg-up because of their built-in awareness with fans. But Fox is cognizant that there is a limit to how many older titles can be dusted off. “Our strategy was to develop a mix of strong recognizable IP as well as brand new series from proven hitmakers,” she said.
New series already in the works for next season include “Shots Fired,” billed as a provocative look at the issue of police shootings from Gina Prince-Bythewood and and Imagine’s Brian Grazer.
The pair opened the presentation by acknowledging that the network’s ratings overall were challenged during the fall, even as “Empire” returned for its second season as the No. 1 scripted series in primetime.
“We’re still in rebuilding mode,” Newman said. After launching a slew of new shows in the fall, the network is now “narrowing the focus to more strategic opportunities in midseason,” he said. Those include the reboot of “The X Files” and the graphic novel-inspired drama “Lucifer.”
The execs announced a second season pickup to “Scream Queens” at the start of the presentation. On the surface, the linear TV ratings for the Ryan Murphy-produced horror-comedy romp were unimpressive.
But Fox was encouraged to continue the series after parsing the multiplatform numbers for the show that appeals to the younger audience that is most likely to watch “Scream Queens” on platforms other than the old-fashioned way of turning on the TV set Tuesday at 9 p.m.
“It didn’t break any records in same-day viewing,” Newman said. But studying the DVR, streaming and VOD viewing patterns over its 16-episode run made it clear that there was a “young upscale audience watching the series on its own terms.”
“Scream Queens” viewership grew by more than 125% when time-shifted viewing options were factored in. Only 30% of its total audience watched the show live on Tuesday nights. Some 26% watched it via DVR and another 44% watched via streaming or VOD options, including authenticated access via Hulu and FoxNow. That all adds up to 62% of viewing coming outside the same-day window — which means that the overnight ratings only capture one-third of total viewing. “These are very meaningful audiences for us,” Newman said.
“Scream Queens” is still not a juggernaut. The total audience for its first season fumed to about 7.1 million viewers. But the multiplatform lift and rabid level of social media engagement it engendered makes it a promising prospect for the network at a time when it needs buzzy shows. The show also has natural appeal to the SVOD syndication market and internationally, which sealed the deal for its renewal.
“It’s a very solid asset for our studio,” Newman said.
The biggest hurdle that networks face as viewing of programs moves to non-linear platforms is bringing advertising dollars along, especially when viewing is delayed beyond three days following premiere. Newman said the network was making progress in expanding the ad sales metric to a seven-day window. “The conversations (with advertisers) are improving quite a bit,” he said. “We’ve sold a substantial amount of our ad time on C7 (ratings basis). Delayed viewing is part of the contemporary experience.”
On the subject of “Bones,” Walden acknowledged that season 11 could be the last for the long-running procedural. Stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz and exec producer Barry Josephson have filed a lawsuit against the network and 20th Century Fox TV studio claiming they have been cheated out of their fair share of profit participation in the show.
Walden said she and Newman were “not really sure” about the show’s fate and turn their attention to the renewal decision next week. Walden said that the legal action would have no bearing on the network’s decision on a pickup. Later, in a gaggle with reporter, Walden said they would not go forward if Deschanel and Boreanaz refused to return.
The decision will be made sooner rather than later to give producers enough time to craft a series finale.
“We’re going to give them plenty of time to write a satisfying ending,” Walden said in the Q&A. “Those viewers deserve a meaningful ending, so we’re trying to be sensitive to that.”
Among other topics raised in the session and post-Q&A gaggle:
Fox hopes to move production of “Scream Queens” from New Orleans to Los Angeles for season two.
The network is focused on tapping a person of color for the lead in the new spin on “24.” “We want to really create a series that is distinctly different from Jack Bauer’s ’24’ ,” Newman said.
The “Prison Break” revival will begin shooting in April for a launch next season. The total episode count is still to be determined, but will likely be between eight and 10.
Steve Harvey is welcome back by Fox to host next year’s “Miss Universe” pageant, despite his gaffe in naming the wrong winner during the live show last month. Newman said he thought Harvey handled the bungle with “unbelievable grace and humility. We’d love nothing more than for Steve Harvey to host again.”
Fox is still working with Simon Cowell on a new reality series idea, but Cowell’s decision to join the judge’s panel on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” this year has “slowed down those development plans,” Newman said.
Fox has faith in new comedies “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder,” but Newman stopped short of affirming that they would return next season. “We’re hoping that more audiences will sample them” now that Fox’s Tuesday comedy block has returned from the holiday break with new episodes.