"American Idol" ratings down, but ad sales seen up

Tue May 4, 2010 2:40am EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fox television heads into the year's biggest advertisement sales period later this month with questions about the future of its ratings champ "American Idol," but a better economy, among several factors, should buoy the show's ad revenue, experts said.

Viewership has slipped on the singing contest, and its hold on the No. 1 position in U.S. TV is being challenged. Fan buzz among America's music-loving youth seems to have shifted to musical "Glee," and at the end of this season, top "Idol" star, judge Simon Cowell, will leave the program.

Fox executives told Reuters there will be no announcement on Cowell's successor when the network presents its 2010-11 programs to advertisers at their annual "upfront" presentation on May 17, nor before the "American Idol" finale on May 26.

But like a struggling contestant getting a "judge's save" on "Idol," which gives that person another chance to compete, viewer-based advertising is being propped up by signs of recovery in the ad market, as well as by "Idol's" continued dominance over most of its rival TV shows, analysts said.

"I don't think they will be able to get sky-high prices. But advertisers still need mass audiences, and although the show is getting fewer people watching, they are still getting the biggest crowd you can get," said Brian Steinberg, TV editor of Advertising Age.

Currently, "Idol" is averaging 24.4 million viewers a show, down 7.5 percent from 26.4 million in 2009 and well off 2006's high of about 30.8 million.

Executives at Fox, a unit of News Corp. say the slide is not unusual for a 9-year-old program and add that in the 18-49 age group prized by advertisers, it is down just 8 percent and still 72 percent ahead of its nearest rival.

LOSING ITS COOL?   Continued...

<p>Judge Simon Cowell in Los Angeles March 9, 2006.REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>