The Harder They Fall: 'Idol,' 'Lost' Drop 20% In Finales

It's a harder fall from the top.

Last night, the biggest show on TV--"American Idol"--and another strong contender--"Lost"--both dropped about 20% in ratings versus their finales last year--a poor performance on the last night of the season and of the May sweeps. But DVR playback may change those numbers dramatically.

As expected, initial results show that Fox's "American Idol" dominated the final night of this television season, with an 11.5 rating/31 share among 18-49 viewers. It pulled in a massive 30.7 million total viewers on Wednesday night.

As powerful as these numbers are, they also are down versus last year's data, which pulled in a 14.2/35 and grabbed 36.4 million. Viewers 18-49 were down 19%; total viewers dropped 16%.

Perhaps more troubling is that this year's finale couldn't keep pace with its season's debut, which earned a record number of total viewers--37.4 million--back in January. Analysts say one of the key attributes of any reality show is that it can build to its season's conclusion.

"Idol" is a little different.

It typically starts strong in its debut (with all the wacky singers), then dips, and then climbs again. Another factor comes down to increasing viewer realization of reality show "results" programs.

"Yesterday's "Idol" was just a glorified concert," says Jordan Breslow, director of broadcast research at Mediacom. "Viewers increasingly understand results shows--that they can be seen in really the last five or 10 minutes. The same thing is true with 'Dancing With the Stars.'"

ABC's "Lost" also had a rocky road--being down over 20% in ratings virtually throughout the season. The show revived itself somewhat in recent weeks, and last night earned a 5.9/15 for its two-hour finale. The finale was down 22% from last year's 7.6. It also sank in total viewers, to 13.9 million from 17.8 million the year before.

Still, Breslow says DVR usage must be taken into consideration for both shows. "Lost" for example, typically adds almost 1.5 million 18-49 viewers through DVR playback over seven days, which is equivalent to a 23% boost in its average 18-49 ratings. "Lost" is one the most DVRed of all network shows.

"American Idol" isn't at this level when it comes to time-shifting. But Breslow notes that "Idol" can grow 12% or so with DVR playback, amounting to an additional 1.5 million 18-49 viewers to its seasonal average.

No matter. "Idol" is still a powerhouse of network television--commanding big $50 million deals each from major sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Co., and AT&T, as well as $1 million-plus price tag for a 30-second spot in its finale. Not only that--but it remains, far and away, the only TV show to get 10-plus ratings among 18-49 viewers.

ABC was the only network looking to make a race on Wednesday night. CBS ran repeats ("Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY"). NBC offered a repeat special "Saturday Night Live in the '90s" and a news magazine "Dateline."

Fox easily finished first for the night among 18-49s, with an 11.5 rating/30 share. ABC was a distant second--with less than half the numbers of Fox, at 4.6/12. CBS was third at 2.3/6, NBC fourth at 1.8/5, and Univision fifth at 1.7/5, CW sixth at 0.6/2 and MyNetworkTV seventh at a 0.2/1.

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