No false 'Idol' for Fox
The fifth and most successful season of 'American Idol' has brought big bucks to News Corp. - and musicians.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Whether you're a member of the "Soul Patrol" or if you've got a bad case of "McPheever", one thing is for certain: regardless of who winds up being named this year's "American Idol" on Wednesday night, Fox will be a big winner.
"American Idol" has defied the skeptics and is putting up its best ratings ever for Fox in its fifth season, despite the fact that "Idol" went head-to-head with the Winter Olympics on NBC in February.
According to TV ratings tracker Nielsen Media Research, the Tuesday performance show was averaging about 31.3 million viewers a week through May 14 while the Wednesday results show is pulling in an average audience of 29.4 million people.
That 's up from an average of 27.4 million viewers and 26 million for those shows last year.
Big $ for News Corp.
This week's episodes should bring in an even bigger audience for Fox.
Viewers will be tuning in to see if the grey-haired soul singer Taylor Hicks - whose manic stage antics bring to mind the John Belushi "Saturday Night Live" parody of Joe Cocker - or the sultry Katharine McPhee will take the "American Idol" crown.
Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming for Katz Television Group, a media consulting firm, said that this week's episodes could each bring in about 35 million viewers.
"The finals are usually viewed by people who are more casual viewers of the show and I think we will see that reflected in the numbers," he said.
The success of the show has been an obvious boon for News Corp (Research).-owned Fox, which is leading the ratings race among the 18 to 49 year olds that advertisers love. Carroll said that strong ratings for "American Idol" this week would probably lock up the season title for Fox.
And according to several media buyers, the average cost of a 30-second ad on the Wednesday edition of "Idol" this year was more than $700,000, by far the highest rate for commercials during a regularly scheduled TV show. And for Wednesday's season finale, Fox is said to be charging $1.3 million for a 30-second spot, buyers said.
"It's really a ratings phenomenon. It's the exception rather than the rule for a show that's five years old," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of corporate research for Horizon Media, a marketing firm. "News Corp. shareholders must be happy."
To that end, News Corp. has been one of the better performing media stocks this year, up more than 20 percent. And when the company reported its latest results this month, the television division was one of the biggest bright spots. Operating profits from the broadcast TV jumped 29 percent from a year earlier.
Fox not the only winner
But "Idol" also has had a profound impact on the music industry. Of course, this year's winner, who will receive a record contract, will likely enjoy a solid recording career.
Past winners Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia and Carrie Underwood have combined to sell millions of albums. Runners-up such as Bo Bice and Clay Aiken have also had hit records.
Several musicians associated with the show have also been boosted by exposure on "Idol." The most notable success story is singer Daniel Powter, who before "Idol" was relatively unknown. But "Idol" has been using Powter's song "Bad Day" all season in clips of contestants who've been booted off the show.
The result: "Bad Day," which was actually released back in February 2005, is currently the second-best selling single on the Billboard Top 100 chart. It has been in the Top 100 for the past 14 weeks.
Other artists who have performed on the show - including Kenny Rogers, Rod Stewart and Shakira - also saw sales of their albums rise in the week after they appeared.
And there even has been an "Idol" spill-over effect for musicians who never have been on the show, said Justin Beckett, CEO of Fluid Audio Networks, a privately held company that runs the American Idol Underground web site. The site is an online version of the show that also gets promoted on Fox's "American Idol" Web site.
Beckett said his site allows musicians to submit songs that are then played on the site's online radio stations. Fans vote on which songs they like best and higher-rated songs get airplay. So far, he said, several artists on the Idol Underground site have received exposure on local Fox TV affiliates as well as record deals with smaller labels.
"The TV show guarantees that someone will be famous," Beckett said. "We don't guarantee that you'll be a star but we guarantee that our artists' music will get heard."
Finally, there's even a stock, other than News Corp. that's a bit of a play on "Idol." CKX, a firm run by entertainment mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman, owns 19 Entertainment, the British company that co-produces "American Idol" as well as other versions of the show worldwide.
For a look at why the Olympics didn't hurt Fox's Idol ratings, click here.
For more about Sillerman and CKX, click here.