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

noah | December 17, 2008 9:30 am

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]

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