World Series Catapults Fox to No. 1 Slot for the Fall Season

Moving from fourth place to the top ratings spot in little over a week, Fox will get another sports assist in February from the Super Bowl.
Elsa/Getty Images

We may be talking about the benefits of the 2016 World Series for some time.

Thanks to the massive tune-in, which culminated with nearly 40 million viewers and a stunning 12.1 rating among adults 18-49, Fox now has the kind of fall momentum it hasn't felt in years. Premiere week's No. 4 network now sits atop the Big Four for the young 2016-17 broadcast season — the only network up from the same period last year.

Most current ratings — that includes a mix of time-shifting and recent live numbers — give Fox a primetime average of a 2.8 rating among adults 18-49. That gives it an 8 percent advantage over usual fall leader NBC (2.6 rating). CBS (2.2 rating) and ABC (2.0 ratings) rank a more distant third and fourth, respectively. Compared to the same period last year, Fox is up 17 percent. The others are all off, with NBC down the least (10 percent) — followed by ABC (-17 percent) and CBS (-19 percent).

It's a pretty big change from the narrative of the last two years. Fox has been confined trading off last place among the Big Four with ABC since the 2014-15 season. On the eve of the World Series, Fox was still in last place — just below ABC.

Fox brass would probably be the first to admit there are several trouble spots in its schedule, but the World Series is not the only factor in the network's ratings ascent. The overall decline in NFL ratings has not hit Fox as hard. For starters, it has no primetime games to worry about — like NBC and CBS. And the network's Sunday coverage has been some of the league's strongest. So strong that Fox's weekly NFL post-show, The OT, even out-rated one evening of NBC's Sunday Night Football. And while Empire may no longer be the decisive No. 1 scripted series it once was, now battling with CBS' The Big Bang Theory for that honor this season, it remains an incredibly strong performer.

Among total viewers, Fox still ranks No. 3 for the fall. Its average 8.9 million viewers, a 22 percent lift from last year, is behind uncatchable audience victor CBS (11.1 million) and NBC (9.3 million). ABC lags with 7.6 million viewers.

Holding on to that status, especially in the face of NBC's incredibly consistent schedule, will be near-impossible. Skeptics will cite that the season is barely seven weeks old and that Fox will lose its advantage as the calendar progresses. And while that may hold true to a degree, Fox also has the Super Bowl to look forward to. Even with any likely dips after this NFL season, the big Feb. 5 game will inevitably lift Fox's season average yet again.

It should also be noted that Fox is holding two of its more promising new series for midseason. Reboot 24: Legacy is all but guaranteed a great sampling after the Super Bowl, and drama Star will bridge Empire's season with a January arrival. The network really only needs one to be a substantial hit to move the dial.

Good as this all is for Fox, the development is not earth-shattering — but it certainly livens up the broadcast race after several seasons of pre-ordained rankings.