TV's Biggest Show Hasn't Saved The Music Industry
I didn't write that story because I didn't believe it -- along with the fact that no music business forecasters would offer up such a theory.
For decades, many artists didn't want to "sell out" to the masses who watch TV. That changed in recent years, as previously reclusive musicians gave in to the power of TV.
Some of these artists are willing to do more than just the typical one- or two-song promotion. Take U2'sweek-long visit on "Late Show with David Letterman" in March of last year, where the group showed off virtually every song from their new album.
Specific music-related TV shows have done their part, but only a handful of new artists have made the grade in selling music.
In pure sales units alone, Carrie Underwood, season four winner of "Idol," is the champ so far, selling some 11.2 million units over three albums. Kelly Clarkson, season one winner, comes in at number two, releasing four albums since 2003, with combined sales of 10.5 million.
Other successful "Idol" contestants include Chris Daughtry, who came in fourth place in season five. Daughtry, his musical act's name, sold 4.6 million copies of its first album, but only 890,000 of a recent release.
More commonly, top "Idol" contestants wind up like Adam Lambert, second place in season eight. He has sold only 445,000 units so far of his first album, "For Your Entertainment."
Part of the problem is looking at musical success in terms of CD sales. The better, newer indication is digital downloads, which have long been a dual-edged sword for the music business.
Consumers would rather just pick and chose the songs they want from an artist. So season eight "Idol" winner, Kris Allen, sold just 233,000 copies of his first album. But one of his individual songs, "Live Like We're Dying," has had 551,000 downloads.
Overall total music revenue was $14.6 billion in 1999, and sank 29% to $10.4 billion by 2008. The downward trend is expected to continue, with estimates of $9.2 billion total within the next three years.
No one can say "Idol" hasn't shed new light on the business. But the show is like a flashlight coming from one seat in the 100,000-seat Rose Bowl.
I can see the temptation of the emotional pull of TV. Hugely popular TV shows seem fertile ground for all sorts of marketing. But for music marketers, this doesn't easily turn into real ROI -- no matter how many established musicians give performances on "Idol."
It's not like TV hasn't given it a shot. Other shows have been used by artists to sell their wares -- from NBC's "America's Got Talent" to music-specific shows like "The Sing-Off," which ran on NBC recently; "Rock Star" which ran on CBS a few years ago; as well as other reality shows with a musical bent like ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance."
But consumers have changed the game. The music business seemingly hasn't hit its lower notes yet -- and TV isn't part of the formula that can help save it right now.