The task ahead for American Idol


RBR-TVBR analysis
“American Idol” makes its Season 10 debut Wednesday (1/19) on Fox, with affiliates hoping it will continue to be the #1 show on television. But Idol has undergone major changes this year and will need an even stronger stretch run for Fox to again claim the 18-49 ratings crown.

Through 16 weeks of the 2010-2011 television season (9/20-10-1/9/11), Fox was not only out of the #1 spot in 18-49, it was back in #3, behind not only CBS, but NBC as well. Yes, NBC – although it is unlikely to remain a contender now that “Sunday Night Football” has left its schedule until next Fall.

Fox focuses almost exclusively on the 18-49 demo, but it trails CBS by an even greater distance in Nielsen’s Household ratings.

A year ago after week 16 Fox averaged a 3.3 rating and 9 share in 18-49. This year it was at 2.7/8. CBS was tied with a year ago at 3.0/8, but that was good enough for the top spot this season. NBC had grown to a 2.8/8 from 2.7/7 a year ago. ABC dropped to 2.5/7 from 2.8/8.

Idol certainly has history to say it can put Fox back on top in the 18-49 demo by the time the season ends. What remains to be seen is whether the exit of Simon Cowell will impact ratings. Of the original judges, only Randy Jackson remains. He’s being joined by newbies Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Will the audience embrace them?

Fox is also taking a risk by shifting the previous Tuesday-Wednesday airings to Wednesday-Thursday. Thursday is the most-watched night of television in the US, but Idol – which is, after all, an unscripted reality show – has to take on the strongest scripted competition the other networks have to offer. Can it still continue to be a ratings juggernaut for Fox against that competition?

As noted above, Fox is further back in the HH ratings. CBS is steady with a year ago at 7.1/12 after 16 weeks, with ABC again #2, albeit down to 5.4/9 from 5.7/9. NBC moved into 3rd place at 5.0/8, up from 4.9/8. Fox fell to 4th at 4.5/7, compared to 5.2/8 a year earlier. But then again, the folks at Fox pretty much ignore HH to focus on winning 18-49, the big-money demo for advertisers.

RBR-TVBR observation: Regardless of what happens with Idol, Fox affiliates will be anxiously awaiting the Fall 2011 arrival of “X Factor,” bringing Simon Cowell back to the network. Affiliates’ fingers are crossed that Fox will wind up with two humongous reality show ratings leaders.