Fox to launch American Country Awards

Fans will determine winners for Dec. 6 event

Just what television needs: another awards show.

Fox is set to announce today its intent to launch a country music awards telecast. The two-hour American Country Awards will premiere Dec. 6 live on the East Coast from Las Vegas.

With ACAs coming to Fox, American TV is about to get a lot more than a little bit country. Two of Fox's broadcast rivals already have country music awards shows of their own: CBS' Academy of Country Music Awards and ABC's Country Music Association Awards. That's on top of CMT's Country Music Television Awards, which is the highest-rated program on the cable channel, and "CMA Music Festival," an annual three-hour ABC special that essentially is a country music awards show minus awards.

By adding another twangfest, Fox is betting that country music is burning hot enough to sustain the new entry. ACA will attempt to differentiate itself from the other shows by having the fans vote for the winners. The executive producer of the program is Bob Bain, who runs the Teen Choice Awards, another viewer-driven awards show for Fox.

After years of decline, there seems to be renewed faith in awards shows given the resurgence of several key franchises, including the Grammys, which rocketed to 26.6 million viewers this year, up more than 7 million from 2009.

Country music in particular might be best positioned to withstand some copycat-erwauling. Although the ACMs dropped low-double digits in total viewers and the adults 18-49 demographic this year compared with the previous year, this year's audience of a little more than 13 million was more than it was in previous years; last yearalso benefited from airing against repeats. The CMAs isn't until November, but its 2009 audience of 16.8 million was its most-watched in four years.

Is the genre so robust that it can sustain four shows? Country album sales dropped 9.1% during the first half of the year, compared with the year-ago period, but that's better than other categories experiencing double-digit declines. There's no shortage of such star attractions as Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, who have grown big enough to enjoy crossover appeal beyond country enthusiasts. Country music also has dodged the doldrums that are cutting into revenue on the concert circuit.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether it makes sense to schedule the ACAs in early December, just weeks after the CMAs might have satisfied country fans. That said, CMT finds enough of an audience in June, weeks after the ACMs in May, but as a cable channel, CMT doesn't need to attract tens of millions of viewers to be successful.

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