Study: Fox out to early demo lead

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NEW YORK -- Three months into a TV season that will grind to a halt because of the writers strike, a Madison Avenue research report finds that ratings for adults 18-49 aren't down by that much.

In a validation of what the broadcast networks have been saying since September, New York-based Magna Global said that ratings for the demographic season to date were only down 4% using the Live+7 figures available from Nielsen Media Research. Magna Global looked at ratings from Sept. 24-Dec. 2, with some estimates factored in.

That's quite a change from the live ratings, in which the five broadcast networks are down 12%, or even Live+SD, down 9% compared with last year. Fox is up 13% year-over-year, but the other networks are down; ABC is off 2%, followed by NBC (5%), CBS (10%) and the CW network (21%). ABC, like last season, is in the lead with a 4.0 rating, with CBS and NBC tied for second place at 3.5, and Fox is fourth with a 3.4.

In viewership, the five networks are down 5% in the aggregate, with only Fox (up 7%) and ABC (up 3%) posting year-over-year gains. CBS is down 7%, NBC is off 14%, and the CW is down 15% in its second year on the air. CBS is edging ABC for the lead in viewership.

"Fox normally wouldn't be in this position until 'American Idol' hits the schedule," Magna Global vp audience analysis Lisa Quan wrote. "This year the network had more regular programming on air this fall because of having less postseason baseball to disrupt its lineup."

Magna Global said ABC is ahead of CBS in the adults 25-54 demo "by the slimmest of margins."

The company also noted that because of the writers strike, low-performing series are remaining on the air so the networks don't run out of scripted programming.

"If this season was like any other year and the networks had pulled their lower-rated fare, (possibly) higher-rated replacements would have taken over," Quan wrote.
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