Fox Networks' decision to pay $1.6 billion for rights to NASCAR has paid off, Variety reports. The final Nielsen numbers for the first six months of 2001 has exceeded the network's expectations. The Winston Cup races averaged 19.9 million viewers on Fox compared with 18.9 million for the same period last year on ABC and CBS. Ed Goren, president and executive producer of Fox Sports, said in a statement that unified cross-promotion, Dale Earnhardt's death on Feb. 18 in Daytona Beach, Fla. and flashy visuals all played a role in NASCAR's banner year in the Nielsens.
It's never been said that FOX's programming was "traditional."
In a very clever move to compete with the Big Three, FOX has decided to focus its resources on a day it can actually win: Sunday. Though "The Simpsons" and "The X-Files" usually win their nightly time slots, FOX is looking elsewhere to prove its Sunday prowess.
The solution? Afternoons.
Recent NASCAR broadcasts have been stunningly popular in the ratings, and FOX plans to capitalize on their success. Nielsen Media Research reports that FOX's broadcast of last Sunday's Las Vegas 500 drew 104% more viewers than last year in the 18-34 age bracket, and 92% more viewers than last year in the 18-49 age bracket. FOX execs see this increase as an opportunity to keep viewers tuned to the network for hours longer.
Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports, tells Variety: "The FOX Network reaches large numbers of young men, and promo spots for NASCAR will get traction with that demographic." Case in point: the new FOX series "The Lone Gunmen," a mid-season replacement for "The X-Files" - on a brief hiatus - which is winning its Sunday time slot.
Ed Goren, president of FOX Sports, feels no shame for promoting "Gunmen" so heavily during NASCAR broadcasts, telling Variety, "We hyped 'Lone Gunmen' at every commercial break in the Las Vegas 500."
Clearly, as prime time contests heat up, FOX has realized that keeping viewers is as important as simply attracting them - a scheme that could prove instrumental come the May sweeps.