You Want to Make Several Million Good Impressions? Move 'Idol' to Saturday

  • by , Featured Contributor, December 1, 2010
Fox is making a big move -- it's switching American Idol to Thursdays.  It's a maneuver that's probably long overdue, as Thursday night is traditionally deemed the most important night of the prime-time week, in terms of proximity to weekend spending, desirable viewing demos and perceived program pedigree. Two decades of "Must See TV" dominance based on Thursday night hits can do that to your TV worldview.

But the move isn't to the packed 9 p.m. hour, which would have Idol face off against Grey's Anatomy, CSI and The Office.  It instead moves to 8, where its stiffest competition will come from CBS' Big Bang Theory.  But let's face it -- that's not especially stiff competition.  Big Bang is a nice, oftentimes top-10 show, while Idol is the dominant show in prime time.  It will obliterate the pairing of Community/Perfect Couples on NBC as well as anything ABC decides to install in its vacant 8.




Fine.  Fox moves Idol.  The performance hour goes to Wednesday, the results go to Thursday.  It's hardly a reckless move, now is it? What if it did something truly groundbreaking?  What if they moved Idol - to Saturday?

"It's the lowest-watched night of the week!" would scream the Fox eye counters.  No one is home on Saturday night to watch it!  It cuts out our clear promotional advantage -- over half of the weekend is over by Saturday night!

Why give that much weight to Saturday, being the lowest-watched night of the week?  One night has to be.  Why would it be Saturday?  Maybe it's related to the available content.  A full slate of repeats and college football is not going to bring in the masses.  Original, compelling, popular content will change that quickly.

And yes, people go out.  But not everyone does, not in this economy. 

We can fix that "half the weekend" paradox also.  Move the performance episode of Idol to Thursday -- which you're willing to do.  Bump the publically valuable Cops/America's Most Wanted skein to Friday, the Friday content to Wednesday, which would allow for Idol's results show on Saturday.  If you're worried about the "purity" of the voting process, close the voting after the same amount of time you allow now. 

The big question, of course, is why in the world would Fox make such a move with their most valuable property?

That's exactly why they should make this move.

As it stands, there's realistically six nights of prime-time programming for the broadcast networks.  The networks all but abandoned the night in 2004/2005, but it had been a slow bleed for many seasons prior to that.  They've ceded the ground to cable, to Netflix, to the DVR, to online, to the overflowing nightclubs and movie theaters and shopping malls that come alive with such a robust consumer spending outlook we currently enjoy.


If a network were to schedule a massive appeal show -- one that crosses demographics and affords unique coviewing opportunities, i.e., "family viewing" - on Saturday night, why would anyone expect that suddenly no one would watch it? 

Oh, by the way -- it appears that Idol also drives HUTs.  Since Idol became a phenomenon back in 2002 (without the summer debut season factored in), prime-time household usage for Tuesday and Wednesday nights while Idol is on the air increased an average of 0.9%, while the HUT for the rest of the week is down 1.2%.  For A18-49, Idol night PUTs are up 1.6% while the other nights are down 2.5%.  Most demos show similar patterns.

It stands to reason that Saturday's HUTs would increase -- and probably significantly.

One of the most common complaints I hear from buyers is that there's just not enough inventory to meet GRP goals.  They often are compelled to heavy up in less desirable properties because there aren't enough GRPs to go around. Moving Idol to Saturday instantly creates a surplus.  It's a GRP factory that can't be built anywhere else.

Fox, you can create GRPs out of thin air.  It's up to you.

Many years ago, Saturday was arguably the viewing night on American TV.  There was one season, 1973, where you could make a case that the full-night lineup carried by one network (CBS), ensured every show would be in the discussion for "top 10 show of all time." 

CBS Saturday, 1973/74 Season


All in the Family




Mary Tyler Moore Show


Bob Newhart Show


Carol Burnett Show

CBS' Thursday lineup that season?  The Waltons and a movie.

Slowly, Saturday's dominance started to erode.  Blame the VCR.  Blame poor scheduling choices.  Blame Cosby and the rest of Thursday's meddling programs.  Daylight Savings Time.  It's not just one thing; it's a combination of all of them.  And now it's a used car lot of clearance models. 

So why in this era where networks and buyers alike are struggling for every rating point and eyeball possible, why would you give away an entire night?

It would take a dominant show to make it work -- you can't re-animate the dead without a whole lot of electricity.  Just ask any good mad scientist.  But Saturday night isn't dead.  It's in a content-deprived coma. 

Yes, it's a bold move.  But we live in a reality where time and schedules are becoming more blurred.  Thanks to the DVR, networks not only compete with the other networks but also with their own programming.

Would this put an additional strain on network development?  Absolutely.  With another night in play, each network suddenly has three more hours to program.  And that's a good thing.  It would let them to be more patient with the shows that need more time to find an audience.  It could be a haven for sponsored content rather than just repeats.  Experiment with new things on the night rather than just running up the white flag, and you might just begin to answer that elusive "is there a future for network television" question. 

Again, I'll ask -- why give away those GRPs?  If you schedule the biggest show on television on a night where nothing else is on, GRPs will appear, as if by magic.

Build it.  You know the rest.

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