Just two events into the broadcast upfronts, the theme of this week is already clear: After absorbing punches from digital video companies for two weeks during the NewFronts, where they used questionable metrics to make the case that audiences are abandoning broadcast TV, the networks are swinging back, and giving every bit as good as they got.
That was the case at Fox's upfront presentation, as the network set the tone early for buyers assembled at New York's Beacon Theatre. Fox played a video featuring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who humorously discussed Fox's ability to attract and keep viewers' attention with "premium ads with attention-getting premium content," as opposed to "cheap ads paired with user-generated content on digital media. Why? No one knows or cares!" said MacFarlane.
Toby Byrne, president, advertising sales, Fox Networks Group, extolled Fox's ability to earn "attention" with incredible scale (the same points he hammered home during FX's upfront in March).
Byrne repeatedly slammed digital video, which he termed "non-premium, subprime video," and noted that "the digital metrics game is rigged." As an example, he compared the published audience reach of "a YouTube star" and a World Series game, which both were 14 million. But the average audience for that YouTube star was only 1,620. Using YouTube's metrics, he added, the World Series game would have racked up 6.8 billion views. "Impressions for subprime video can't compare to TV's delivery," said Byrne.
He noted that the highest viewer engagement happens on VOD, where Fox Networks have the top 6 VOD programs (including the top 4 broadcast series: Empire, The X-Files, Lucifer and Scream Queens), and over half of the top 50 VOD shows. Adding Hulu and other streaming outlets, 28 percent of Fox's entertainment viewing is non-linear, Byrne said.
But after Byrne's pitch to buyers (he also included shout-outs to Fox Sports, FX and National Geographic, which announced last week that it will reduce ad load up to 50 percent in the fall for new series and specials), Fox let its new lineup do most of the talking.
And for the most part, the audience seemed to love what it saw, particularly the first footage from the crown jewel in Fox's freshman lineup this year: its 24 reboot, 24: Legacy, which is debuting after Super Bowl LI in February.
In fact, that was a recurring theme of almost all of Fox's trailers screening during the upfronts. Whether buyers just appreciated that Fox allowed its trailers to breathe, as compared to the nonstop barrage of sizzle reels that NBCUniversal unleashed during its combined upfront this morning, these trailers received far more enthusiastic applause than almost anything NBCU screened.
This fall, Fox will have "the most stable schedule in four years," said Gary Newman, co-CEO and co-chairman, Fox Television Group. "A lot of familiar faces, a lot of stability."
And two new shows based on famous movies: Lethal Weapon ("a big, broad procedural," said Newman) and The Exorcist (which is "as scary as anything you'll see at the movies," said Newman).
The loudest reception for a fall series, however, went to new comedy Son of Zorn, about an animated warrior (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) who lives in the Pacific Ocean, and returns to Orange County, Calif. to try to win back his live-action ex-wife and teenage son.
The network also shared footage from its new version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Laverne Cox, which will air during Halloween week.
Buyers seemed most enthusiastic about Fox's strong midseason lineup. In addition to 24: Legacy, there was a lot of love for comedy The Mick, which is "a perfect companion for New Girl," said Dana Walden, co-CEO and co-chairman of Fox Television Group, adding that actress Caitlin Olson is "sort of a combination of Melissa McCarthy and Tina Fey."
The return of Prison Break, which following in the footsteps of The X-Files will be a limited series revival, featuring the original cast, also had the audience buzzing.
Buyers also loved drama Pitch, which Walden said will be "heavily promoted by our partners at Fox Sports and Major League Baseball." Comedy Making History, which like Son of Zorn hails from executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who also created The Last Man on Earth), also generated lots of laughter.
Fox concluded with Star, its new music drama from Empire creator Lee Daniels, which Walden described as "an unmistakably Fox series," and also had a huge response. The music trio at the heart of the show performed two songs, including a cover of Prince's "I Would Die 4 U."
They weren't the only musical act during Fox's upfront: The Empire stars performed a high-energy medley of songs from their show, much as they did during last year's upfront. But while Empire was all that anyone was talking about last year, the strength of Fox's new shows comprised much of the post-event chatter.
Fox's other midseason series include limited event Shots Fired and drama AFB: