The trials and tribulations of American Idol just seem to get worse and worse. And yet, in a bizarre way, which could only exist in the TV business, things have never been better.
I have written before about the ratings problems for AI with its weekly viewership down well over 50% from when it was the most popular show on TV. It was thought that the addition of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj would dramatically reverse the show’s sagging fortunes.
But that hasn’t been the case at all. When once the show would regularly attract some 30 million viewers a month, this season, in particular, has seen a real decrease in those numbers.
The show is averaging now just over 11 million viewers a week, and last week the show was actually beat by reruns of The Big Bang Theory. (And remember that’s reruns)
And to add insult to injury, NBC’s The Voice beat AI for the first time, pulling in some 14-1/2 million viewers.
Things are so bad on AI that it was reported by various news sources, though denied by Fox of course, that the producers of the show seriously considered replacing Carey with previous AI judge Jennifer Lopez, since that expected ratings boost with Mimi failed to materialize. However the idea was squashed when Carey threatened to sue producers if she was replaced.
And yet, Fox is devoted to the show and will do anything to keep it on the air when everyone else says the show is well past its golden prime, and should be put out of its misery and be cancelled.
Because AI still is, far and away, Fox's biggest cash cow. According to The Wrap, the show, last year, made for the network an astonishing $836.4 million in ad revenue. And that figure is $100 million more than what the network made in 2011.
All this explains why Fox can’t give up on the show, However, no doubt, the show will not make what it’s been making in the past few years, since this year’s lower ratings means that Fox has to charge lower rates for commercials.
This season’s going rate that Fox charges for a 30 second spot is $340,000, which sounds like a lot. But when you consider that the network commanded $500,000 for that same 30 second spot last year, you can see the problem the network is facing.
And next season will no doubt bring an even lower rate.
What all this adds up to is that AI has been financially shoring up Fox for years. It didn’t really matter how their other shows were doing as they had AI to rest on. That’s now rapidly becoming less sure, and unless Fox can fix what’s wrong with Idol (like maybe like having people who can really sing, and judges who really give solid criticism like Simon Cowell used to do) they’ve got a problem.
Or perhaps they need to find some new no-one-can-afford-to-miss-every-week hit shows which, in this day and age, is next to impossible to do.
Other than that, the network has some serious work cut out for them.