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Wednesday March 13, 2013 09:13

Fox tries to lift ratings of fading ‘Idol’

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The microphone that singers on Fox television’s ”American Idol” will use for the live broadcast on Wednesday has traveled to Hollywood after an Olympic torch-style journey through 13 cities.

Producers hope the ”Idol Across America” relay will generate enthusiasm for the 12th season of the long-time TV ratings champ, which has seen viewership fall the past six seasons.

Last year, the show that launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson lost its eight-year-old title as the most-watched series on US television when it fell behind NBC’s ”Sunday Night Football.”

Ratings slipped again when the show returned in January, with season-to-date viewership down roughly 20 percent overall and in the 18 to 49 age group that advertisers most want, despite a revamped judges panel and new interactive features.

Among 18- to 49-year-olds, ”Idol” on Wednesday ranks third this season behind ”Sunday Night Football” and CBS comedy ”The Big Bang Theory.” The Thursday broadcast comes in sixth, with ABC comedy ”Modern Family” in fourth place and Monday night’s ”The Voice” at No. 5, according to ratings data provided by Fox, a unit of News Corp.

”You look at the declines and you get a little bit concerned when you see double-digit drops,” said Jason Maltby, who purchases commercial time for advertisers as the lead TV ad buyer at Mindshare.

”You wonder how much of it is due to personality changes and how much is due to how long it’s been on the air. Has it started to run it’s course?” he said.

To freshen the broadcast, ”Idol” for the first time replaced three judges in one move, leaving only Randy Jackson, who has assessed the talent since the show’s 2002 debut. Producers brought in judges from different musical styles – pop diva Mariah Carey, hip-hop star Nicki Minaj and country singer Keith Urban.

The show also created an online ”super vote,” where fans can cast 50 votes at once. Viewers were encouraged to tweet #idolagree or #idoldisagree in response to the judges’ decisions in early rounds, with results appearing on-screen.

During its heyday in 2006 and 2007, ”Idol” could pull in more than 30 million viewers for an episode. This season’s Wednesday night shows average 16.5 million, according to Nielsen.

Even with eroding viewership, ”American Idol” ranks in the top five shows each week, which so far has allayed any fears among its major advertisers, none of which has dropped their sponsorship. ”It’s still pulling in numbers that other networks can’t get on any night,” said Lauren Israel, vice president at media agency J3.

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