'American Idol' Ratings Go Down A Bit -- But May Be Up With Marketers

Do the rich get richer? Or, does it just look the way to the rest of us, with less in our pockets?

Television executives realized a long time ago - when broadcast rating erosion became an annual event unto itself - that maintaining share, even in an overall market of declining ratings, is good news.

For other, more pessimistic TV watchers, it's really like eating steak for the first time on the Titanic when the ship is going down. You feel good. But somehow you know indigestion and a cold shower is around the corner.

"American Idol," perhaps the most-dissected TV network show due to its still crazy-high number-one ratings, debuted on Tuesday to big numbers again. Here comes the 'but': The show's 18-49 numbers dipped 15% versus last year's debut.

Even with this news, Fox has little to complain about. The show, now in its eighth season, only really started showing dips in viewing last year versus the previous year. This is all slightly below normal for a program with its longevity.

Peter Liguori, chairman of Fox Entertainment, has a different perspective, one of share. He told Broadcasting & Cable: "Last year the premiere of 'American Idol' was 55% stronger than the premiere of 'Grey's Anatomy." This year, it is 57% stronger. If you look from bellwether show to bellwether show, we have maintained our strength."

Or, improved on it.

This will be a good sell to advertisers come this upfront period because whatever position the overall market is in -- flat, slightly down, slightly up --- "Idol" will be still at the top of the heap, perhaps more so given its comparison to other top network shows.

For virtually more than two decades since audiences started to fractionalize, TV executives could count on regular CPM increases of network television. Like it or not, for some that's a major yardstick in measuring performance.

Even if "Idol" was only 50% above "Grey's Anatomy"s debut, there would be little cry from TV advertisers. In this TV economy -- more than ever -- any sliver of evidence showing you are still better than the next big guy will always feel good -- and usually end up being good



3 comments about "'American Idol' Ratings Go Down A Bit -- But May Be Up With Marketers".
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  1. Mike Weber from CMR Studios, January 15, 2009 at 10:46 a.m.

    I'd like to applaud the producers and editors of Idol. They have stepped up the quality of the editorial content significantly this season.
    The music choices are better. The seque of contestants performances to the actual hits has been a subtle link that exhibits a refined attention to detail. The pacing is such that the two hours seems like just one. The montage pieces have real emotions from outright hilarity to tears. The final one at the end of the show last night made you really feel the elation and that moment of unbounded optimism of the contestants moving forward. It's the kind of feel good programming, and TV numbers that we need right now.

  2. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, January 15, 2009 at 10:53 a.m.

    American Idol has been on 8 or 9 years. It's tiresome. I used to watch it. The hey day is long over. Why folks expect shows with such a long run to come out of the box as if it was a new concept that people still wanted to see in droves is beyond me.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 15, 2009 at 11:45 a.m.

    Like fishing, it doesn't matter what we like, it's the desires of what we're trying to snare. I thought the show was improved over recent seasons, more watchable for sure, but in the end, it only matters if the advertisers are spending their money correctly. I wonder how low ratings can go, even for hit shows, before well-heeled advertisers abandon "linear tv"?

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