Three million five hundred seventy-four thousand viewers … is how Nielsen measured Sunday’s night’s not-live-after-all staging of Rent on Fox, a number unlikely to have execs at the network singing with joy this morning. While these are preliminary numbers and will go up once delayed viewing is tallied, as of now, the 3.574 million same-day audience puts Rent in the record books as the least-watched of the recent wave of musical events that began with 2013’s Sound of Music Live! on NBC. Rent looks to have delivered about 20 percent fewer viewers than Fox’s last musical event (2017’s A Christmas Story Live), and did dramatically worse than the network’s most successful live event, Grease: Live (12.1 million in January 2016). It also paled in comparison to NBC’s critically hailed Jesus Christ Superstar concert event from last year (9.6 million). And yet, the total viewer numbers don’t actually tell the full story of how well Rent did for Fox.
Despite being relatively small, the audience for Rent on Fox was disproportionately young. Per Nielsen, the three-hour telecast notched a 1.4 rating among adults under 50, making it the No. 1 show on all of network TV Sunday. Consider: CBS’ 60 Minutes, with a much-hyped interview with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, drew nearly three times the overall audience (11.2 million) as Rent, and yet its score among adults under 50 was a mere 1.1 rating. Plus, among millennial adult women under 35, Rent notched a 1.8 rating, which isn’t that far below ABC’s The Bachelor (2.3 rating). In other words, Rent didn’t reach a big audience, but it did reach a demographically desirable one for Fox. (Though, even here, Rent still ranks as a disappointment compared to past live musicals: Grease scored a massive 5.2 rating with millennial women.)
What’s more, for better or worse, Rent got audiences talking about a network TV production on a Sunday night, and allowed Fox a chance to hype new shows like The Passage to an audience that rarely watches live TV anymore. Was it worth the no-doubt huge price involved? We’ll know the answer when we see if Fox — which has announced plans to do more live events of all kinds— chooses to stage another musical event. The next big network musical is slated for NBC, which has announced plans to do Hair Live! in May.