‘Glee’ Turnout Casts Shadow on Oxygen Project

Network's 'Gleekend' underdelivers

Oxygen executives may have found themselves a little short of breath after the ratings for the network’s weekend Glee stunt came in. 

According to terms of a deal with 20th Century Fox TV, Oxygen has the right to preview episodes of Glee in occasional 12-hour bursts, effectively setting the table for the June 12 launch of the network’s related competition series, The Glee Project. Unfortunately for Oxygen, the turnout for Saturday’s marathon was less than encouraging.

Per live-plus-same-day ratings data, the half-day “Gleekend” delivered roughly half the audience that turned up for Oxygen’s first session. On Saturday, May 21, the NBCU cable net drew a cumulative audience of 5.48 million viewers with its 12-hour showcase, a decline of 48 percent from the 10.6 million viewers who tuned in for the first Glee marathon on Feb. 5.

All told, Oxygen averaged 456,000 viewers over the course of Saturday's stunt, a drop of 49 percent from the 885,000 fans who were sucked in by the previous Glee marathon.

The first time out of the gate, no fewer than three installments of Glee drew at least 1 million viewers. This time around, the biggest delivery came courtesy of the final installment, which ran from 9:47 p.m. to 10:48 p.m. That episode drew just 551,000 viewers to Oxygen.

In the penultimate hour of the stunt, Oxygen took the wraps off the first Glee Project video: a full-cast performance of Katy Perry's "Firework." The sneak peek of the 12 contestants and the show’s format was seen by approximately 550,000 viewers.

The numbers are worrisome. If the flagging ratings don't necessarily point to a general decline in interest for the Fox show, the weak turnout for Oxygen's second stunt suggests the package isn't being marketed correctly.

Should the latter be the case, this could spell doom for The Glee Project. If it’s to put the brakes on a steep ratings slide, Oxygen desperately needs the unscripted series to do well with its young female demos. In the first quarter of 2011, Oxygen saw women 18-49 fall 18 percent in prime time (165,000 versus 200,000 in the prior-year period) while women 18-34 were down 14 percent to 99,000.

Total prime-time viewers fell 11 percent to 469,000, according to Nielsen.

Despite Saturday’s poor turnout, Oxygen got a hell of a deal on its Glee package, forking over between $500,000 and $600,000 per episode in June 2010 for the off-net rights to the show. That’s quite a bargain, considering it costs Fox TV somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million to produce each episode (44 to date).

The pact gives Oxygen clearance to begin scheduling regular repeats of the series in Q3 2013. Sweetening the pot, Glee creator Ryan Murphy agreed to bring his concept for the 10-episode companion series to Oxygen.

Murphy will take an active role within The Glee Project and will serve as the final arbiter when it comes time to crown the eventual winner. The grand prize is a seven-episode arc in season three of the Fox musical.

Fox will not promote The Glee Project

Glee has averaged 11.6 million viewers through the first 21 episodes of its sophomore run. That number was boosted considerably by Fox's decision to air a special installment immediately following Super Bowl XLV. The Sue Sylvester Shuffle retained nearly a quarter (26.8 million) of the 111 million fans who tuned in for the Steelers-Packers brawl.

Despite regularly finishing in the top 10 in the demo—trailing only Fox's American Idol, NBC's The Voice, and ABC's Dancing With the Stars and Modern FamilyGlee has suffered some slippage in recent weeks. The April 19 installment was the season’s first to miss the 10 million mark, drawing 9.8 million viewers. Thereafter, Glee has averaged 8.93 million viewers over the course of four weeks.

The season finale airs tonight (May 24) at 8 p.m. on Fox.