Fox Strikes Out On World Series

Fox's coverage of Game 4 of the World Series earned a 17.2 rating and a 27 share of the audience Wednesday night, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The New York Yankees' sweep of the San Diego Padres caps what looks like the lowest-rated Fall Classic ever. After three games, the Series had averaged a 13.4 and a 23 share. The 1989 Oakland-San Francisco contest, interrupted by an earthquake, was the worst-rated, posting a 16.4 and 29. Final Nielsen averages for the 1998 Series are expected at about 3:30 ET.

Marc Berman, analyst at television ad representation firm Seltel, told there's more at work here than just the bad luck of a brief Series. He said Fox "is not having the best season, and less people are watching, which means that less people probably had an opportunity to look at their promotional spots."

And as widely reported, broadcast television viewing is down across the board, Berman added. "There's more cable competition, and of course the Internet is more prevalent in today's society, so people are more involved now and watching less TV," he said.

But this season's drop-off in sports viewing could finally help break the pattern of escalating event fees, said Berman. "It's very possible. You have to be careful now," he said, especially at a time when networks are being forced to make job cuts.

As it looks for a silver lining in the World Series fiasco, Fox is certain to point to the success of its Saturday afternoon baseball telecasts during the regular season, which posted a 3.1 rating and a 10 share for the 1998 season, 15 percent ahead of the previous season's average of 2.7 and 9. The boost was provided by a couple of compelling pennant races and an assault on the hallowed single-season home run record. Fox said it was the biggest increase for national Game of the Week telecasts since viewership rose 42 percent from 1965 to 1966.

U.S.-listed shares of Fox parent News Corp. (NWS) fell 3/8 to 24 3/4.

Written by David B. Wilkerson