Fox’s ‘American Idol’ Returns Down 22% in 18-49

Its 4.7 rating, 15.2 million viewers still leads night, is higher than show's most recent finale

American Idol Ratings January 16

Fox’s “American Idol” was hoping to reverse its recent ratings trend as it kicked off its 13th season Wednesday night, but early indications are that it has a lot of work to do to reclaim some of its lost viewers.

According to preliminary national estimates from Nielsen, the two-hour season premiere of “American Idol” averaged a 4.7 rating/13 share in adults 18-49 and 15.2 million viewers overall. While this made it easily the night’s top show, it was down 22% in the demo and 15% in total viewers from last year.

On the bright side for Fox, Wednesday’s season premiere came in above the show’s prior finale (3.6 rating, 14.3 million last May) — the first time this has happened in four years. And despite its declines, “Idol” from 8 to 10 p.m. outperformed the combined 18-49 deliveries of the two closest networks (ABC and CBS) while beating the combined 18-34 rating of ABC, CBS and NBC (3.7  to 3.5).

With the exception of 2010, when “Idol” actually edged up year-over-year in key demos as Ellen DeGeneres replaced Paula Abdul at the judges’ table, the premiere-night 18-49 rating for the show has declined vs. the previous year by double-digit percentages for each season since 2008. And those falloffs have been at least 17% for each of the last four years.

Wednesday’s premiere rating in 18-49 for “Idol” is 8% lower than that for the most recent premiere of NBC’s music competition series “The Voice” (5.1 in September). In total viewers and teens 12-17, though, “Idol” was more popular than the NBC show’s fall opener.

In a bid to stem the ratings erosion, “American Idol” made some key changes heading into this season. Fox execs have acknowledged that they expected ratings to fall some again this year, but they hope to see some stabilization.

Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj are out as judges, but Keith Urban is back for a second season. He is joined by Jennifer Lopez (back after after a year off in 2013) and newcomer Harry Connick, Jr., while original judge Randy Jackson will return in a mentoring role.

Longtime exec producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick exited after last season, and Per Blankens, producer of the Swedish versions of “The Biggest Loser” and “MasterChef,” is among this season’s exec producers — alongside Simon Fuller, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Trish Kinane, Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager.

Elsewhere in primetime on Wednesday, most shows came in lower than usual — due to the combo of “American Idol” and, in the 10 o’clock hour, the return of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.”

At ABC, the season premiere of “Suburgatory” at 8:30 p.m. (1.6/5 in 18-49, 5.3 million viewers overall) was down sharply from its post-“Modern Family” premiere of last season, but retained most of its demo lead-in from “The Middle” (1.8/6 in 18-49, 7.5 million viewers overall), which hit a season low. “Modern Family” (3.2/9 in 18-49, 9.1 million viewers overall) was also near a low, but was the night’s No. 1 scripted program in 18-49. The net then tumbled from there with “Super Fun Night” (1.6/4 in 18-49, 4.6 million viewers overall) and “Nashville” (1.3/4 in 18-49, 5.1 million viewers overall).

CBS, which placed second to Fox on the night, opened with special repeats of half-hours “Two and a Half Men” (1.2/4 in 18-49, 5.5 million viewers overall) and “The Millers” (1.1/3 in 18-49, 5.0 million viewers overall), and then had a good showing at 9 p.m. with “Criminal Minds” (2.4/7 in 18-49, 10.5 million viewers overall), which tied with ABC’s comedy hour in 18-49 and was the No. 2 scripted show of the  night in 18-49 and total viewers. And at 10 p.m., “CSI” (2.0/6 in 18-49, 10.3 million viewers overall) was in line with its most recent original, besting its drama competition in key demos.

NBC’s dramas “Revolution” (1.3/4 in 18-49, 4.9 million viewers overall), “Law & Order: SVU” (1.5/4 in 18-49, 5.5 million viewers overall) and “Chicago P.D.” (1.5/4 in 18-49, 5.5 million viewers overall) all came in lower than last week, when they faced softer competition. “Chicago P.D.” was down 25% from its premiere (when it didn’t face either “Nashville” or “CSI”), but it seems very compatible with its “SVU” lead-in, matching the vet’s demo score after dropping slightly from it one week earlier for its premiere. Also, “Chicago P.D.” finished ahead of ABC sophomore “Nashville.”

At CW, “Arrow” (0.9/3 in 18-49, 2.5 million viewers overall) was down from its most recent original, while “The Tomorrow People” (0.6/2 in 18-49, 1.6 million viewers overall) edged up.

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: Fox, 4.6/13; CBS, 1.9/5; ABC, 1.8/5; Univision, 1.2/3; CW, 0.8/2; Telemundo, 0.5/2.

In total viewers: Fox, 15.0 million; CBS, 8.6 million; ABC, 6.1 million; NBC, 5.3 million; Univision, 2.9 million; CW, 2.0 million; Telemundo, 1.3 million.