"American Idol" season debut down from last year

Wed Jan 16, 2008 4:17pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. television's top show, "American Idol," returned to prime time with 33.2 million viewers, down sharply from last year's record season debut but still more than watched the four other major networks combined, according to early ratings on Wednesday.

The two-hour Fox network broadcast averaged 4.4 million fewer viewers overall than last season's premiere episode and fell by 13 percent in ratings for adults aged 18 to 49, the audience most prized by advertisers, Nielsen Media Research reported.

Those tallies represent a four-year low for a season premiere of "Idol," the smash hit talent contest in which amateur singers, both tone deaf and gifted, compete for instant fame and their first major-label recording contract.

A Fox spokesman said the network expected the show's ratings performance to improve when Nielsen's final numbers for same-day viewership come in later.

Last year, "Idol" opened its sixth edition with a record 37.4 million viewers tuning in but finished the season down slightly in the ratings compared with 2006, prompting many observers to say the show's popularity may have peaked.

Increasing use of digital video recorders by Americans who prefer to record their favorite shows and watch them later also is taking a toll on same-day ratings.

But industry watchers expected "Idol" to bounce back bigger than ever this season as it returned for a seventh round in a prime-time landscape clouded by the Hollywood writers strike.

TV ratings were down 10 percent this year across the board, even before the strike began. And viewership is likely to slip lower this winter as prime time is swept by a glut of reruns, reality TV and game shows -- programs that generally draw smaller audiences than original scripted dramas and sitcoms.   Continued...