×

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

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.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth WarrenSecond 2020

    ABC News Sets Moderators, Rules for Third Democratic Debate

    ABC News has announced the moderators for the third Democratic debate, as well as the qualification rules. The debate will be held on Thursday, Sept. 12, and will spill over to Friday, Sept. 13 if more than 10 candidates qualify. The moderating team will consist of chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” anchor and [...]

  • James Corden Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke

    James Corden Got a Little Help From Paul McCartney on His Drive to the Emmys

    Saying “Baby, I could drive your car” has proven to be a very good strategy for James Corden — never more so than when he put Paul McCartney into the highly sought passenger seat. The primetime special “Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney, Live From Liverpool” is a contender in five Emmy categories this year, [...]

  • Starz Logo

    Starz Orders Horror Comedy Pilot 'Shining Vale'

    Starz has put out a pilot order for “Shining Vale,” a horror comedy which hails from “Divorce” creator Sharon Horgan and “Trial & Error” co-creator Jeff Astrof. The prospective series is about a dysfunctional family that moves from the city to a small town into a house in which terrible atrocities have taken place. But no one [...]

  • Bethenny Frankel at the showtime Emmy

    Bethenny Frankel to Exit 'Real Housewives of New York' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bethenny Frankel is stepping away from the “Real Housewives” franchise. Variety has learned exclusively that Frankel is poised to exit Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” ahead of its upcoming twelfth season. Frankel first joined the acclaimed reality series back when it premiered back in 2008 before exiting the series in 2010 during the [...]

  • Dolly Parton

    BBC Commissions Dolly Parton Feature Documentary

    The BBC has commissioned a feature length documentary about country music legend Dolly Parton, it announced Wednesday. The documentary, tentatively titled “Dolly’s Country” will air on BBC Two this fall as part of a season of programs dedicated to country music. The broadcaster announced earlier in the day that it had acquired Ken Burns’ upcoming [...]

  • UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad

    UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad Girls Throughout History' as Anthology Series

    Universal Content Productions (UCP) is developing an anthology series based on Ann Shen’s book “Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World.” The project will be titled “Bad Girls,” with each episode featuring a different influential woman throughout history, including famous figures like Ada Lovelace, Rosa Parks, Mata Hari, and Ruth Bader [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content