Word on Manhattan's midtown TV block is that the Fox Network, News Corporation's onetime lame duck, is leading the season's Audience Demographic TV sweeps in the key 18-49 age group.

Insiders say two programs have driven Fox way ahead of the hounds - its airing earlier this month of the Super Bowl, the year's most watched TV event to date; and Pop Idol, its rehash of a successful British format.

In the sweeps period through February 22 Fox commanded a massive 84% of the eighteen-fortyniners, reports Nielsen Media Research. Its ratings grew from 3.7 to 6.8 thanks to Super Bowl and American Idol, now airing three days a week. There is also increasing interest in House, Fox's latest medical soap which follows on from the Pop Idol slot on Tuesdays.

Despite an increasing tendency among media buyers to see the annual Ritual of the Sweeps as a stage-managed irrelevance given the growth of Nielsen's local people meter system, the networks fiercely oppose talk of abandoning the charade. The ancient rite, which began February 3 and ends March 3, purportedly helps networks set local ad rates.

Disney's ABC also fared well, posting a 19.4% increase. But for every winner there's a raft of losers: in the 18-49 key demographic the ratings variances to date are ...

  • NBC - down 28% to 3.6
  • UPN - down 18.8% to 1.3
  • WB - as UPN
  • CBS - down 11.4%
A rating is a percentage of all TV households, irrespective of whether their sets are turned on. For example: a 1.0 rating is 1% of all US households with a TV set.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff