'Idol': No bad note for Fox
Despite a slight dip in ratings for the Tuesday night shows, media buyers say 'American Idol' is still a huge money maker for the News Corp.-owned Fox network.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In case you haven't heard, a new "American Idol" will be announced on Wednesday night.
Will it be the bubbly, big-voiced Jordin Sparks, the 17-year old daughter of the former New York Giants cornerback Phillippi Sparks (Go Big Blue!) or it will be Blake Lewis, the trendy, beat-boxing extraordinaire?
One thing is certain, no matter who wins, News Corp.'s (Charts, Fortune 500) Fox network can thank Jordin, Blake and the remaining finalists for helping to lift Fox to a third consecutive ratings victory in the crucial 18-49 year-old demographic. CBS (Charts, Fortune 500) is on track to win the overall ratings race and finish second among 18-49-year-olds.
But should Fox be concerned that viewers may finally be starting to show some fatigue with its popular singing contest and the antics of Ryan, Randy, Paula and Simon?
Even though the two weekly episodes of "American Idol" are on track to finish this season as the most-watched and second-most-watched shows on prime-time television, ratings for the Tuesday night performance show have dipped slightly this year both among total viewers and with 18-49 year-olds. Ratings for the Wednesday night results show are a bit higher, however.
While some media and entertainment writers have highlighted the Tuesday ratings decline as a sign that the popularity of "American Idol" has peaked, several media buyers said they are not that concerned and that Fox shouldn't be either.
After all, the Tuesday night performance shows have pulled in an average of 30.3 million viewers a week through the week of May 20, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. Last year at this time, the show had an average audience of 31.1 million.
"There is no question that ratings for the Tuesday night show are down but look at what it is doing. Any network would kill for ratings like that and the show is in its sixth season. How many shows continue to have such tremendous success in its sixth season?" said Jordan Breslow, director of broadcast research with MediaCom, a media buying firm that is owned by ad agency WPP Group (Charts).
In addition, having a ratings juggernaut like "Idol" on its schedule has helped Fox launch other big hits, such as "House," which in its third season following the Tuesday night "Idol" shows is having its highest ratings ever, as well as "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" a new game show that Fox originally launched after "Idol" before moving it to Thursday nights.
Another media buyer said one possible factor for the ratings slip in the Tuesday night shows is simply that this year's contestants were not as compelling as those in seasons past, save for Sanjaya Malakar, whose woefully out of tune performances and hair styles generated the most buzz this season.
So "American Idol" may have, to paraphrase the Daniel Powter song that "Idol" helped make popular last season, had a bad day...or year.
"Ratings erosion is always a concern. But it will be important is to discern if this is a short-term trend reflective of the performances and singers just not jumping out at the American public this season, or whether the show has hitting an inevitable, albeit slight, decline, after six years," said John Rash, senior vice president and director of broadcast negotiations with Campbell Mithun, a media buying firm based in Minneapolis that is owned by Interpublic Group (Charts, Fortune 500).
Rash said he thinks it's too soon to say if this year's ratings dip is a reason for Fox to really worry.
And advertisers, including perennial "Idol" sponsors Coca-Cola (Charts, Fortune 500), Ford (Charts, Fortune 500) and AT&T (Charts, Fortune 500), clearly recognize that there are not many other options in prime-time to reach such a massive audience week in and week out.
To that end, Fox was said to have charged an average of $594,000 for a 30-second spot during the Tuesday editions of "American Idol" this season and $620,000 for a 30-second commercial on the Wednesday show, according to figures published last fall by industry trade publication Advertising Age.
So all those TV executives at CBS, ABC and NBC that are hoping to see "American Idol" run out of steam may have to wait a little bit longer.
"When 'Idol's' ratings go down, it does draw attention. Maybe it wasn't the strongest of years for 'Idol' but you never know what will happen next season. There may be some tweaks but the formula is working for Fox," said Breslow. "The other networks may still be jealous."