By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, March 12 The microphone that
singers on Fox television's "American Idol" will use for a live
broadcast on Wednesday has traveled to Hollywood after an
Olympic torch-style journey through 13 cities.
Producers hope the "Idol Across America" relay helps build
enthusiasm for the rest of the 12th season of the long-time TV
ratings champ, which has seen viewership fall over the past six
years. This season's finale is scheduled for May.
Last year, the show that launched the careers of Kelly
Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson lost its eight-year-old title as
the most-watched series on U.S. television when it fell behind
NBC's "Sunday Night Football."
Ratings slipped again when the 12th season began in January,
with season-to-date viewership down roughly 20 percent overall
and in the 18 to 49 age group that advertisers most want,
despite a revamped judges panel and new interactive features.
Among 18- to 49-year-olds, "Idol" on Wednesday ranks third
this season behind "Sunday Night Football" and CBS comedy "The
Big Bang Theory." The Thursday broadcast comes in sixth, with
ABC comedy "Modern Family" in fourth place and Monday night's
"The Voice" at No. 5, according to ratings data provided by Fox,
a unit of News Corp. This season of Idol ends in
"You look at the declines and you get a little bit concerned
when you see double-digit drops," said Jason Maltby, who
purchases commercial time for advertisers as the lead TV ad
buyer at Mindshare.
"You wonder how much of it is due to personality changes and
how much is due to how long it's been on the air. Has it started
to run it's course?" he said.
To freshen the broadcast, "Idol" for the first time replaced
three judges in one move, leaving only Randy Jackson, who has
assessed the talent since the show's 2002 debut. Producers
brought in judges from different musical styles - pop diva
Mariah Carey, hip-hop star Nicki Minaj and country singer Keith
The show also created an online "super vote," where fans can
cast 50 votes at once. Viewers were encouraged to tweet
#idolagree or #idoldisagree in response to the judges' decisions
in early rounds, with results appearing on-screen.
During its heyday in 2006 and 2007, "Idol" could pull in
more than 30 million viewers for an episode. This season's
Wednesday night shows average 16.5 million, according to
Even with eroding viewership, "American Idol" ranks in the
top five shows each week, which so far has allayed any fears
among its major advertisers, none of which has dropped their
sponsorship. "It's still pulling in numbers that other networks
can't get on any night," said Lauren Israel, vice president at
media agency J3.
AD RATES FALL
Even so, as ratings have slipped, the cost for 30 seconds
on "Idol" has declined, according to an annual survey released
by Ad Age in October. The average commercial price on Wednesday
nights dropped 32 percent this season to $340,800, the
publication said. Coke, AT&T and Ford remain primary sponsors.
Minaj has earned rave reviews for candid and entertaining
comments. Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield called her "the
best judge 'Idol' has ever had."
Fox executives still can pitch "Idol's" relatively youthful
audience to advertisers who seek out viewers below age 50. The
median age of "Idol" viewers dropped by nearly four years to 45,
a rare feat for a show on the air for more than a decade.
"It brings young and old, and it brings in females," said
Darcy Bowe, director at media agency Starcom USA. "It still has
a high value to advertisers."