Robert F.X. Sillerman, CEO of CKX, Inc., said a meeting between Fox and Nielsen is scheduled for Monday, or thereabouts, to deal with an issue he called "oxymoronic": "Idol" ratings have fallen, yet other indicators show that viewership is up.
Furthermore, he suggested that Fox has some grist in its argument, having identified a home with 14 people watching the show -- which it was not given proper ratings credit for.
"There's a meeting I understand on Monday between -- I believe it's Monday -- with Fox and Nielsen," Sillerman said on a call with investors. CKX owns 19 Entertainment, a co-producer on "Idol."
"It's oxymoronic," he added, "that (Nielsen is) reporting gross numbers of viewers (that are) down, yet all other measures -- like, for instance, the number of people who are voting -- are up."
Sillerman said 64 million people voted for contestants Tuesday -- the most ever for a non-finale "Idol" show. (He suggested that another indicator of the show's health could come this week when tickets for the next "Idol" tour go on sale.)
The conference call was to discuss CKX's first-quarter results. By one measure, "Idol" ratings are down 13% (to 9.9) for the Tuesday show and by 9% (to 9.8) on Wednesday -- both in the 18-to-49 demo. 19 Entertainment receives bonus payments from Fox based on ratings performances.
In regard to any Fox opposition to Nielsen, Sillerman indicated that the network has conducted some insightful research. "They've done a pretty interesting job because they've caught a couple of households that were monitored -- (and) one of them had 14 people ... watching the show," he said. He did not specify whether the "monitored" home was a Nielsen household.
"No such meeting is planned," a Fox representative wrote in an email. A Nielsen representative said he was not aware of one scheduled.
A representative for CKX said he could not reach Sillerman to provide any more details.
CKX reported that revenue from "Idol" in the first quarter was down 14% year-over-year to $24.7 million (those figures include much more than fees paid by Fox for the show). CKX reported that on-air sponsorship dollars were down, but did not specify what revenues were included in that bucket.
Overall revenue from the "Idol" business accounted for 30% of CKX revenues in the quarter.
Fox has two more years remaining on its contract to carry "Idol" after the current season ends, and Sillerman said he expects negotiations on extending the agreement past 2011 to begin this summer. While it's likely that Fox will want to continue with the show, he said "there's certainly no guarantee that they're going to ... we'll see." Fox has the right to match any offer to keep it.
19 Entertainment is a partner with FremantleMedia on production of "Idol" The current agreement between Fox and 19 Entertainment was reached in 2005, and it has been extended through 2011.
Overall in the January-March period, CKX revenues were up 25% to $81.5 million. Operating income rose to $23.6 million from $20.1 million.