Are There A Few Pitchy Canaries Singing In The “American Idol” Coal Mine?

Dec 17th, 2008 // 4 Comments

Earlier this week, American Idol announced a few format changes for the upcoming season: the “Idol Gives Back” charity show is off this year; 36 hopefuls will be in the semifinals instead of 24; the judges will hand-pick three candidates who were overlooked by text-happy kids in a “wild card” round to help determine the top 12 (the top nine vote-getters will make it through to the finals regardless); that top 12 won’t necessarily be split down the middle, gender-wise. Idol watcher MJ notes that ratings for the past three years have started to drop around the time the field of contestants was reduced to nine, and that perhaps these changes will help invigorate interest for people who really liked, say, that one chick who had a knack for putting her own spin on ’70s lite-rock and were crushed when she got eliminated in favor of vocally challenged Britney Spears knockoffs. And both Davids Cook and Archuleta are transitioning into the pop world better than Idol winners from previous years. But what if the economy gets in the way of the show’s rebound?

The first bad news comes from the North, where Canadian Idol has been canceled because of “the current economic climate.” Producers are only saying that the show will “rest for the 2009 year,” and versions of the program in Germany and Russia have gone on hiatus but returned. But what’s probably making Fox executives scratch their heads is this bit of data from Nielsen:

An extra four million viewers watched the Fox network’s “American Idol” in the seven days following the initial episodes, which aired two nights each week. The numbers belie the notion that live competition and topical programs are what advertisers call “digital video recorder (DVR) proof”.

The whole notion of shows being “DVR-proof” has been bandied about a lot lately, most recently in the context of NBC’s decision to give its 10 p.m. ET/PT slot over wholesale to Jay Leno’s vaguely humorous topicality. Watching shows on DVR presents a dual set of challenges for network execs, who sell ad time in blocks of time that they’ve winnowed down to the closest demographic “t” they possibly could and who need people to watch commercials in order to be able to convince companies to plunk down cash on ad time.

Now, let it be known that for various reasons I am one of those DVR viewers; I like to have the show stored somewhere so I can re-rewind the crazy parts, for one. But I also (especially during those two-hour marathon programs!) skip the commercials and, maybe, a few of the puffier bits for my own sanity’s sake. Of course, product placement within the show—the Coke cups, the Ford ads, the Old Navy duds—helps offset the phenomenon of people zipping through the ads and the boring parts, and helps the show keep up its music-licensing ways sometimes ersatz production values. But with a bad economy comes a need for tightening of belts, particularly on the side of advertising and particularly in the case of Ford, which, it should be noted, was one of “Idol Gives Back”‘s main supporters. Will lots of product placement within the show be enough to keep it afloat for a season beyond this one?

‘American Idol’ freshens format with Season 8 changes [USA Today]
Canadian Idol Cancelled For 2009 [National Post]
“American Idol” is most time-shifted show [Reuters]

  1. Chris Molanphy

    It was my wife who coined the phrase “made for TiVo” to describe American Idol when we both got addicted four years ago. You can skip not only the ads but anything that starts to bore you during the show itself — there’s so much filler, including performances that bore you. And anything truly ridonkulous is going to get recapped on the Interwebs by the next morning anyway.

    We don’t start watching until the show is at least 20 minutes through. I tend to be a bit more conservative in my “ba-DOOP!”-ing, and so I maybe cut out 20-25 minutes from a one-hour episode; but when my wife’s twitchy finger is on the remote, we can get through one of those hourlongs in about 15-20 minutes.

  2. Anonymous

    i’m surprised that canadian idol is taking a hit, mainly because it seemed like more people actually watched the show this year, myself included (thanks to mooky). i’m also surprised because it doesn’t seem like it’s that expensive of a show to put on…

    but then again, it’s the biggest show CTV produces, whereas all the other mainstays of that network are all imports from the US.

    this is kindof scary for canadian television, since that media corporation is probably one of the largest in canada, and they’ve already laid-off a significant amount of their staff since the economic crisis hit. these are probably the first of many big losses to come, though.

  3. fabulousrobots

    Canadian Idol is no longer? Those posts were some of my favorites on Idolator. I was always in hysterics.

    If I had DVR, I would definitely watch some parts of Idol multiple times.

  4. LeBron

    From my own experience, I can attest that American Idol is certainly not DVR-proof. I consider myself to be the biggest Idol apologist in the country these past three years, and in that time frame, I’ve watched precisely one episode live.

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