Does ‘American Idol’ Ebb Mean Music’s Over for Fox?

American Idol Ratings Slump
Kagan McLeod for Variety

The season-to-date primetime rankings may tell a different story, but there’s no question Fox is limping to the finish of the 2013-14 television season.

After good audience response to newcomer “Sleepy Hollow” in the fall, Fox’s start to 2014 was rocky. Reality kingpin “American Idol” took a tumble, and the net’s most promising new shows in recent years, comedy (“New Girl”) and drama (“The Following”), have been placing fourth in their timeslots.

Fox is not alone in its struggles — and next month’s return of “24” should give it a boost — but this is the time of year when, during “Idol’s” heyday, Fox typically dominated and opened up some distance on its rivals. And that’s what makes the net’s performance last month especially eye-opening.

During March, a clean four-week period with no major awards shows or dominant sports programming, Fox placed fourth among adults 18-49 all four weeks. In Nielsen’s “most current” ratings, which include two weeks of seven-day DVR playback, the network’s average rating of 1.6 (a 30% decline from last year) trailed CBS (2.1), ABC (2.0) and NBC (1.9).

Fox has now placed fourth for six consecutive weeks but it still isn’t in danger of falling below second place for the season; that’s because it aired both the Super Bowl and NFC Championship games in primetime this season. If you take sports out of the equation, the net’s in fourth place — a tick behind ABC and three-tenths behind both a rising NBC and declining CBS.

In years past, “American Idol” was capable of erasing all of Fox’s sins. But now the music competition is struggling at the same time other Fox programs have hit the skids.

Through March, “American Idol” was averaging a 3.8 rating in adults 18-49, and 13.2 million viewers overall for its two-hour Wednesday performance show — still pretty good numbers, especially for a series in its 13th year. But the numbers represent declines of 25% and 17%, respectively, vs. last year. And while this marks the third straight season “Idol” has lost 20% or more of its young-adult audience, this year’s dropoff has had a more meaningful effect on its status as one of TV’s top-rated (and most feared) programs.

Series airing on the competition, including “Survivor” and “Criminal Minds” on CBS and “Modern Family” and “The Middle” on ABC, have broken through with ratings firsts opposite “Idol” this season, and the music contest has been kept out of the weekly top 10 (or even 15) in most recent weeks.

But it’s hardly just the “Idol” nights of Wednesday and Thursday that are hurting Fox; the net was down in March by 25% or more on Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

As the youngest-skewing major network, Fox would seem to be more vulnerable to DVR time-shifting. But even when looking at L+7 numbers for original episodes, “The Following,” “New Girl” and “Glee” are all down 20% or more this season. Vets like “Family Guy,” “Bones” and “The Simpsons” are holding up better, but they’re hardly a long-term growth solution.

Fox renewed a bunch of marginally rated shows for next season, but it will need some familiar pieces in a fall where the recent cancellation of “The X Factor” due to low ratings means the net will need to fill three additional hours.

Still, if there’s one upside to the decline of Fox’s music contests, it’s that it may be the impetus the network needs for a creative kickstart.

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  1. Dee says:

    I love American Idol this year. I love the three judges together, my favorite Keith Urban. I watched it last year, always taped it and fast forwarded it when the two divas started talking.

    • andrea smythers says:

      American Idol’s focus is always on Jennifer Lopez. When the contestants are singing the camera is focusing on her and it’s also become a fashion show for her. The focus should be on the contestants. I personally think it has ruined the show.

  2. Lovenewyorkcity says:

    I’ve watched idol since its inception. I have to say I’m sadly disappointed in the contestant choices this year. I don’t mind what the producers pay the judges as long as the result is a great show otherwise what’s the point? Just awful…There’s no way CJ should have made it to that stage among others, but especially him. He seems to be JLo’s favorite…which would be fine if he could sing. I’ll try watching next year. This year is too disappointing and boring. Its karaoke bar talent at best.

  3. Lovenewyorkcity says:

    This is an AI forum, not a KKK rally. No one cares about your comments on this page. A bunch of words that make no sense..rant, rant, rant. If you don’t want to be around different cultures, buy an island, move out of your trailer park and move away. Your hatred won’t be missed.

  4. Mark says:

    The problem with AI this year is there is an extreme focus placed on getting these judges who everyone knows and paying them an arm and leg to sit there and be useless. The thing that really made Idol so popular at its inception was it wasn’t about any of that. Paula Abdul was the most well known of the judges. No one knew anything about Simon or Paula, but there was chemistry. Overall, the main focus was on finding good talent. There was Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtery, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, etc. etc. Which season 14 contestant can REALLY make it? The contestants are so bad, no one cares who wins. When Fantasia and Rubin one, there was this whole race thing that was going on. But, it all boiled down to both of them were extremely talented and were in a poole of other talented contestants. For Idol to see numbers again, they have to erase what everyone is saying and just pick good talent (white, black, asian, doesn’t matter.) IMO, the damage is so deep, it is irreparable. This is the FIRST year since Idol has been on that I have completely stopped watching it. I even took it out of my recorded DVR shows. Go ahead and bury this one Fox, it can’t be revived.

  5. rhonnie says:

    I stopped watching soon after tryouts when Jennifer Lopez started trying to steal the shine from the talent. She should learn about tact. It’s not about you “Boo”, it’s about the talent and the fans. Jelle needs to “Get Somewhere and Sit Down”.

  6. Melissa says:

    Fox just call it a day with idol after this season. I stopped watching in 2005 but in my free opinion the show outwore its stay.

  7. Elliemae says:

    The season was going fine until they picked the Top 13. They did not choose all of the right constestants to move forward. They cut a lot of singers who were more talented than the ones they let through. It started going downhill for me at that point. It is evidenced by the lackluster performances by the singers thus far.

  8. ADAMBEST says:

    AI is very very boring and I don’t watch it any more. The judges are too playful and the show is not a serious show anymore. The judges are horrible. jlo should never have been brought back and the new guy from New Orleans, he is horrible and appears to try to be over the show but he is super super boring. Keith has always been boring and they appear to be voting for something else other than the singing…..I HATE THIS SHOW!!!!! PLEASE TAKE IT OFF THE AIR

  9. Tim says:

    People can only watch a program so many times that they know is completely rigged/staged and that REAL GOOD underdog singers are out there who are rejected by Idol every year, and that Idol Producers have already selected their singers WELL ahead of time, and have already created their stage acts for the stage WELL in advance (you know, like the various ‘themes’ that require a re-composition of the music for the musicians and the practice they need with the singer for the timing, light show, fog and acting/facial expressions, being just all too well done to believe they set it up within a ‘week’).

    People know when they see a POLISHED product that takes MONTHS to dream-up and engineer. American Idol is a completely FAKE show that is staged and planned months in advance of the time when the phony “try outs” are held.

    People used to watch American Idol because they believed REAL people who were amatuers with natural talent were being “given a shot” on a national stage, but we know that’s not true. MOST of the people who appear on American Idol have been PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS FOR YEARS and have cut STUDIO ALBUMS before in their PROFESSIONAL career. The whole show is a complete fraud and a lie.

  10. Ralph DiBenevento says:

    They made the show about everything BUT talent. They lost us in 2011.

  11. TxnByBrth says:

    I tuned in for the first time this season and was a little disappointed overall at the caliber of talent…

  12. Jack says:

    Gee, maybe it’s because people know the show is rigged! They USED to think their online actually mattered for something, but now they know it’s all just for show. The producers choose who the winners and losers are.

  13. sara says:

    Fox is being run by people who seem to have no understanding of how to create or maintain an audience. 24 is the only program I will watch on Fox this year and its from the age when Fox knew how to market a character and a show. Heck, the Superbowl ad for House was more entertaining than any of the new shows this season.

  14. Dave says:

    My family and I have watched for years. We like the current judges. Niki M. was a horrible choice for the show last year. Someone needs to have their head examined over that one. Biggest complaint I have is they have tinkered around with the format too much! I DO NOT like the way they call out the contestants from backstage in the beginning of the live shows.This year, some of the people I followed for weeks, didn’t even get a chance to perform live! They were just “not called out from the back”. Another thing, they need to bring back industry powerhouse producers. artist, etc. to mentor the contestants. I really like Randy and if he doesn’t want to judge, then he should move on. Bottom line is, it’s all about the contestants. We want to see more of them and less of the judges. Again, I like the current judges but they are to wordy in their critiques and they are showcased too much. We watch because we want to root for contestants we like. Show us more about them, their struggles, their homes, their experiences. (Someone have the producers call me if they want to turn the show around. LOL)

  15. nelson says:

    I never watched American Idol when its ratings were amazing years ago ! But I do watch it now !Primarily the first 20 minutes and the last 15 minutes !! I like listening to Harry Connick Jr and absolutely
    love looking at Jennifer Lopez. I can’t take my eyes off her since I saw her in the movie Parker with the British actor Jason Statham. She looked amazing ! Pure body perfection ! I can’t stop looking at her after that scene where she’s undressed ! Sorry, but became addicted to looking at JLO !! Feedback Please !! Does she or doesn’t she look great in that movie !!

  16. Kayren says:

    It’s a shame that they aren’t doing well in the ratings because, IMO, this is the best panel of judges ever. They are articulate, sincere, knowledgeable, constructive with their criticisms, and HOT. How can you NOT love Harry Connick, Jr.!!

  17. Jack says:

    RENEW ALMOST HUMAN!!! will ya?

  18. Jeffro1969 says:

    Oooo Kaaay … what does your comment have to do with the decline of a singing talent show?

  19. Jeffro1969 says:

    I watched “American Idol” for a few weeks recently because a visiting relative likes the show. Some observations:

    1. The judges have no chemistry.
    2. The show spends too much time building phony “drama” with the backstage antics of the contestants, not enough time singing.
    3. it seems that none of the contestants are very good – last nights program reminded me more of a bad high school talent show than a hunt for undiscovered singing prodigies.

    Finally, the forced “fun” of the show is just awful. The part when Harry Connick, Jr. went into the audience “to experience what the audience sees” and then returned to the judges stand with a clearly uncomfortable young girl still perched on his shoulders was very, very creepy. “We didn’t have time for the dismount,” he explains. I couldn’t be the only one wondering if he intended to take her back to his dressing room for God knows what.

  20. I used to love keeping up with Idol but it has just got tiring. The programs are too long by half and consumed with commercials and small talk – the actual singing piece consumes only 25% of airtime. I still do watch but I watch the next day with my DVR remote in-hand. Seems that it has devolved to:

    Opening blather, ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad, first singer, judging, ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad, second singer, judging, ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad, random musical act from the past Idol seasons, ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad,ad, third singer, and so on and so forth.

  21. Gil says:

    I still enjoy the show, but I feel like the Mariah Carey-Nicki Minaj debacle from last season gave the show, perhaps, a fatal body blow. The change from Tues/Wed. to Wed/Thurs. doesn’t work either. Lastly, the shows are too long. Once the contestants are whittled down, there is no need for a two-hour competition show. The results show should ALWAYS be a half-hour.

  22. TC says:

    I feel the judges let better people go and kept some that weren’t so good just to be politically
    When Harry Connick sang he should have gotten the hook.
    We have enjoyed watching re-runs of Jag instead of watching idol.

  23. Robert Darryl Hidalgo says:

    American Idol did damage to itself by not keeping impartial judges who could properly groom the aspirant idols. Losing Paula Abdul was the worst loss as she was the grace of American Idol itself. Randy brought a new perspective on what and on who American Rock royalty is today. While Simon existed as the major voice of permission, his presence was neither American nor unbiased. Simon often mistook talent according to phenotype rather than voice. The recent judges are not very American; therefore, they cannot understand what an American Idol may be. Urban (UK-ethnic), Lopez (Hispanic Black Caribbean), and Connick, Jr. (Southern Jazz/Blues) are people, from extremely exclusive segments in American society, for whom it is hard to transcend their phenotypes and stereotypes to recognize potential talent outside their spheres in any regard. Judge exclusivity, bad behavior among judges, and unprofessional treatment of contestants by judges have caused loss of viewership. Since judges have treated aspirant idols like lab rats, it is easy to see that today’s judges are inclined to be tormentors rather than mentors. #LoveRyanSeacrest

  24. Rob says:

    American idol is now in R.I.P. and it is mainly Harry Connick. He watches each contestant looking as if hes constipated and is remarks are even worse than the eventuality…

  25. Russ says:

    Oh please go off the air!

  26. Max says:

    Last years Judges lost half the loyal viewers, this years lack of talented contestants has lost the rest.

    • Jeffro1969 says:

      Bingo – I was thinking exactly the same thing. The contestants on “American Idol” would never make it to the blind auditions on “The Voice” let alone become finalists. The performances on last nights “80’s Show” were dreadful – weak singers performing bad songs.

    • gates1588 says:

      Max, you have it exactly correct. Only Caleb would have gotten a call from the producers at “The Voice”. The rest are one step above a high school talent show.

  27. Whaddya know says:

    Interesting that Variety appears not to allow “up” and “down” voting/flags. How convenient. I have not needed to notice that before.

  28. Mark says:

    Not sure about you. But I think American Idol is a simple marketing machine designed to take low talent individuals and to fit them into a recording contract on the level of POP music. They will only attract teenybopper fodder tryouts that will produce pop romance themed music written by college dropouts etc etc etc. Real musicians will never stoop to this level. These are not artists. We are tired of this show taking up airspace. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Look at the grammys. Any true artist knows to avoid that marketing crock of ghetto garbage. We are in need of a new movement in music and entertainment.

  29. Keith says:

    The show has grown tired when the best thing is the constructive criticism from the judges. The talent has fallen because the producers feel like there has to be a PC spectrum of performers. All of the over production makes it look like they’re megastars which they aren’t. Also, the sound production stinks. So often you can’t hear the singers over the background music. Cut back to basics. A one hour show that features their singing ability without all the cheesy background stories and skits. It’s annoying. There isn’t enough talent to warrant a two hour show all of the time. The final should be one hour and not a second more. Who wants to sit through two hours of teases?

  30. MichaelZ says:

    Why do reporters talk endlessly about ratings when the powers-that-be at FOX (i.e. Murdochs) don’t care about failure as long as the failure is profitable. Granted, they would be smart to think about MAXIMIZING profits, but that’s wishful thinking. As long as the network is profitable, idiots like ex-reality prez Mike Darnell and I-wanna-be-a-star Nigel Lythgoe keep their jobs despite one bad decision after another. And sometimes $15 million bad decisions (J. Lo) are followed by $17 million bad decisions (J. Lo II).

  31. ThomT says:

    Fox would be better off to give Idol a two year hiatus. Revamp the concept, dump the air time spent on lousy auditions that are time wasters, get the focus off who’s behind the judges table, drop all the pyrotechnics and back up singers who sing over (and often better then) many of the contestents, don’t let the singers tell they sad back stories, focus on the music with honest constructive advice and replace the overexposed Ryan Seacrest.

  32. steve stevenson says:

    What is Drudge’s obsession with American Idol and X-factor? I don’t watch the shows myself, but he is always linking to stories about how terrible they are doing in ratings. Who cares? Why does he devote his bandwidth to this fluff?

  33. snortly says:

    The problem is not that people are tired of the formula, rather people have decided that they want to see actual talent in the singers and don’t care about the has-been dolts and divas they put in the judges seats. Good heavens, look at last season in which they put up the breathtakingly awful Nikki Manaj as a judge.

  34. smitty says:

    Idols problem was the lame azz fools they had on it last year… those 2 “divas” that were on it did more fighting between themselves and petty B S cr ap! That is what brought down idol and people have not returned to it yet based on last years total season of B S !

  35. Del says:

    I would do it, but who wants to see a fat, middle-aged guy naked?

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