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DVR Viewing Could Save ‘Fringe’

Only network show to finish among top finishers in time-shifted programs

The live audience for “Fringe” is not exactly something Fox has been screaming from the top of its television broadcast towers.

But the people who watch “Fringe” on any night but Friday is something they can be proud of. And who knows, it might be enough to give the cult (and network) favorite one more season after this one.

“Fringe” finished in the top 10 of 2011’s most time-shifted shows, according to a new report from The Nielsen Co. The people who DVR “Fringe” and watch it later improve the show’s overall audience by 80 percent. Even more interesting, not a single other network television show finished in the top 10.

So either cable channels need to find a better day and time for their shows, or Fox really is doing “Fringe” a serious injustice by keeping it on Friday nights.

The 80.3 percent mark is ninth among all television shows, topped by the new hit FX series “American Horror Story,” with a 95.3 percent audience boost from DVR viewing. No other genre shows made the time-shifting list, but USA Network had four shows in the top 10, while FX had three.

That still doesn’t create too large of an overall audience for “Fringe,” but it does show that the program has fans that go beyond those who don’t have plans on a Friday night. Through the end of November, “Fringe” was Fox’s lowest-rated program, and was ranked No. 71 overall, with a 2.0 rating/3 share average.

It’s the lowest-rated major network show through Thanksgiving, and is only 11 percent better than The CW’s top-rated show, “Vampire Diaries.”

If “Fringe’s” time-shifted audience were watching live, that could have given the Fox show approximately a 3.6 household rating. That would move it into the top 55 programs, and share company with the likes of “Grimm” on NBC and even “Family Guy” on Fox.

It would also put it in Fox’s top 10, ahead of “Raising Hope,” “American Dad,” “Cleveland Show,” “Mobbed,” “Allen Gregory” and “Kitchen Nightmares.” That should be enough for Fox to renew a show like “Fringe,” right?

Sadly, no. While it does show the potential live audience for the show, “Fringe” has been rather consistent in its ratings this year. Through seven episodes, “Fringe” has earned an Audience Loyalty Index rating of 93.2. That means of every single person who has tuned in to watch one episode of the show live, more than 93 percent return each week. Those numbers indicate that people are either choosing to watch it live or taped, but are not changing their minds to do something different.

That is not good for a television show. Ratings for live airings are important because, unlike with time-shifted viewing, watchers are typically watching the commercials as well, and it’s commercials that pay for programming like “Fringe.” DVR viewing is not as valuable to advertisers, outside of product placements, because fewer people are watching the commercials — the point of advertisers including them in the first place.

At the same time, this could bode well for a future DVD market, and might be enough for Fox to justify another season — that is if Warner Bros., which produces the show, is willing to lower its license fee to Fox for another season to create more product for the DVD sets.

Fox has stayed quite interested in “Fringe.” However, Fox is highly reluctant to move “Fringe” off Fridays, even if audiences aren’t making the time to tune in on that night. The network has hinted in the past that it might allow “Fringe” one more season to wrap up, completing its cult status.

To see Nielsen’s full report, click here. For a deeper explanation on ratings, check out this recent SciFriday column.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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