“Remote Free TV” For FOX’s ‘Fringe’ and ‘Dollhouse’: Will It Work?

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June 4th, 2008

\'Fringe\' Mondays at 9pm this fall on FOXI was in the process of writing Bill Gorman an e-mail about this and figured, eh, if it's interesting enough for Bill to think about, I might as well just do a post.

FOX is going with the strategy for new dramas Fringe and Dollhouse of having half as many commercials in both shows' episodes. FOX has dubbed this Remote Free TV. Media Week is reporting that FOX is getting 35%-40% premiums for this ad inventory versus advertising for regular programming (which Media week says is up 8%-10% versus last year and similar to the increases ABC is commanding).

If you make a 35%-40% premium on half the advertisements, all other things being equal it still leaves a revenue shortfall of 10%-15%. The question becomes will they draw in 10%-15% or more viewers as a result of the initiative. It's an interesting strategy and I kind of like it, especially for the shows they're doing it with Fringe and Dollhouse.

Unfortunately as these shows are new we have no past ratings to compare it to. Both shows are in the realm of science fiction/fantasy - the type of shows that usually aren't hits on the broadcast networks. But we do have a basis of comparison for FOX itself with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Throwing out the first couple of episodes because of special promotion, lead-in, etc, TSCC averaged 9.33m. I'm guessing the only thing that really matters is 18-49 year old viewers and throwing out the first two episodes I only had data for 6 out of the 7 remaining shows where it averaged 4.37. An additional 15% in the 18-49 demo would take it to right around 5 million 18-49 viewers.

I actually think that's very doable in normal circumstances (assuming the show is any good). In its season finale, LOST, which is on the wane viewers-wise (although it had a strong year story-wise) for all the normal reasons that plague serial shows, plus somewhat wacky scheduling, had 6.453 million 18-49 viewers. So, when FOX thinks about break even with the Remote Free promotion, if a show like TSCC is the benchmark the 5 million, attempting to get to 5 million seems very doable.

Then again, FOX may have higher expectations for both the shows and the promo and expect them to perform as well as LOST or Heroes, which typically averaged over 6.5 million 18-49 year old viewers. Heroes may be the benchmark rather than TSCC, and I think it probably should be.

In that case, I like the strategy a bit more in the sense that FOX may have very little hope of achieving those kind of numbers without the special Remote Free promotion especially as it will be airing at exactly the same time as Heroes! a completely different time than Heroes. (It will air on Tuesdays at 9pm after House)DVRs will be working overtime.

Since FOX was already taking somewhat of a risk just because the type of shows Dollhouse and Fringe are and that they aren't usually hits for the broadcast network, and since they have seen fit to compete head-to-head with Heroes, I am leaning towards liking the strategy more. I have a summer to think about it before Fringe premieres in the fall Mondays Tuesdays at 9pm. Dollhouse is currently scheduled to premiere mid-season.

What do you think about the Remote Free strategy? Is it a smart strategy? Will it work?

P.S. I'll wind up watching on the DVR anyway (and both shows I believe will quickly have million+ DVR viewer followings). It will certainly not be "remote free TV" in my house. :)

P.P.S I had the timeslot screwed up and I can't believe nobody jumped all over me about it. Fringe/Dollhouse fans are a kind bunch. I've corrected it.

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