Sleepy Hollow Scares Up Huge Ratings for Fox

Smart marketing campaign helps genre mashup draw a 3.5 in the demo

If it hadn’t clicked, the corridors at Fox would’ve been a-roil with rolling heads. But thanks to a smart marketing campaign and a rip-roaring narrative, the series premiere of Sleepy Hollow was a huge win for the network.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Sleepy made short work of the competition, bowing to an impressive 10.1 million viewers and a 3.5 in the adults 18-49 demo. The one-hour premiere now stands as Fox’s highest-rated fall opener in seven seasons. (The Ron Livingston procedural Standoff bowed to a 4.7 rating on Sept. 5, 2006.)

Not only did Sleepy outperform its time slot predecessors—The Mob Doctor was DOA, drawing 5.11 million viewers and a meager 1.5 in the demo, while The Following arrived last spring in front of an audience of 10.4 million viewers and a 3.2 rating—but the pilot actually grew its ratings in the second half-hour. From 9-9:30 p.m., Sleepy averaged 9.92 million viewers and a 3.4 in the dollar demo, while the latter half averaged 10.2 million viewers and a 3.5.

Based on previous results, Fox expects Sleepy will rise to between a 5.1 and a 5.6 rating when seven days of DVR playback are folded into the preliminary numbers.

Including the aforementioned Kevin Bacon thriller, only a handful of new series drew north of a 3.0 rating in their 2012-13 premieres. NBC’s Revolution launched to a 4.1 in the demo, while the comedy Go On drew a 3.4; ABC’s The Neighbors arrived with a 3.2; and CBS’ Elementary bowed to a 3.1.

Sleepy faced a competitive set that included ESPN’s Monday Night Football and the season premiere of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. The popular unscripted series kicked off its 17th season with a flourish, averaging 16 million viewers and a 3.1 in the demo. The hour that went head-to-head (sorry) with Sleepy delivered a 3.4 rating.

DWTS’ preliminary ratings likely were inflated by the Pittsburgh data, as the local ABC affiliate preempted the show in favor of the Bengals-Steelers game. (ESPN’s telecast averaged 14.3 million viewers and a 5.6 in the 18-49 demo.) 

The ratings battle will only heat up next week, as Sleepy will face the season premieres of NBC’s The Voice and the CBS comedies 2 Broke Girls and Mom.

Fox’s senior marketing strategist allows that the signal-to-noise ratio could be all out of whack next week. “The one disadvantage of premiering a full week ahead of everyone else is that our Week 2 goes up against their Week 1, which is where the other networks will unload their massive promotional spend,” said Fox COO Joe Earley.

While Sleepy’s preliminary ratings are very encouraging, Earley’s job is far from finished. “You really do have to speak to people, on- and -off air, in Weeks 2, 3 and 4,” he said. “The share that we are now able to drive to the premiere is not large enough to sustain a 30 percent drop-off in Week 2.”

Going forward, the marketing team will take a bifurcated approach to Sleepy, working to drive viewers to the live broadcasts while encouraging others to catch up with the show on the DVR or via VOD. Of course, there are limits to what the network can do to try and reach an audience.

“Our budgets are not endless, and it takes a lot of discipline to not spend it all on the launch,” Earley said. “It takes discipline to support a show in the weeks after the premiere, but that discipline can be the difference between a show that opens big and fizzles and a show that has staying power.”

Fox is planning a Sleepy catch-up marathon that will air in October on sibling cable net FX. Meanwhile, the show will avoid the seasonal interruptions that can suffocate a series while it’s still in the cradle. Whereas The Mob Doctor last fall was pre-empted in three successive weeks by Fox’ coverage of the NLCS playoffs and World Series, Sleepy only faces a work stoppage if this year’s Fall Classic goes to a Game 5.

“That’s just a one-week situation, and it comes at a time when we’ll need a breather,” said Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly. “Other than that, we’re clean.”

The Sleepy cast, crew and writing staff will welcome the break. With very few days in the schedule to accommodate reshoots, everyone attached to the show has been putting in marathon days on the Wilmington, N.C., set.

An all-new episode of Sleepy Hollow airs Monday, Sept. 24, on Fox. Tonight marks the series premieres of the Seth MacFarlane comedy Dads and the Andy Samberg-Andre Braugher cop chuckler Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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