Fox site rocks with 'Idol's' return

ABC has a theory for viewers with 'Lost' episodes, nicknames

The midseason return of "American Idol" helped double Fox Broadcasting's online traffic in January compared with December.

Nielsen Online said that Fox had 4.6 million unique visitors in January, up 101% from December, to beat CBS (4.5 million, down 24%) for the month. But both network sites still are behind ABC.com and NBC.com, which had 8.1 million and 7.9 million visitors, respectively.

In addition to "Idol," the Fox site benefited from the return of "Prison Break" and the premiere of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," according to Bill Bradford, senior vp content strategy at Fox.

Although Fox does not stream episodes of "Idol" on its site, it still was the most-visited part of the property, with an estimated 1.1 million visitors.

ABC.com's month, which saw an 11% increase, was keyed by "Lost's" Jan. 31 return. Even though the streaming numbers for "Lost" count toward February's numbers, the network aggressively promoted the show on the site through the month.

"It wasn't just that 'Lost' was coming back," said Alexis Rapo, vp digital media at ABC. "We had built a strategy around building content up through January."

The strategy involved making "Lost's" first three seasons available and showcasing features connected to the show. The most popular ones included "Lost Theories," where fans uploaded videos to the site attempting to decipher the mysterious series, and an offering in which an automated version of the wisecracking Sawyer gave users customized nicknames.

Even though NBC's numbers dipped slightly compared with December, Vivi Zigler, executive vp digital entertainment, said she was encouraged by her network's numbers during the WGA strike-ridden month of January.

"Overall, we would've anticipated more difficult numbers during the strike," Zigler said. "That speaks to the core fans missing their shows and wanting to continue to interact."

She noted that, even though it was off the air, the section for "The Office" continued to be one of the top draws for the network.

Nielsen Online is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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