Clouds on horizon for "American Idol" juggernaut?

Sun May 17, 2009 1:11pm EDT
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - "American Idol" reaches its climax this week, still ruling the roost on U.S. television after eight seasons, but the battle of the songsters faces declining audiences and limits to its viewer-driven format.

The finale showdown on Tuesday pits musical theater star Adam Lambert, whom Entertainment Weekly magazine called "the most exciting 'American Idol' contestant in years," against college student Kris Allen, a favorite among teenage girls.

What started as a cheesy summer show in 2002 has mushroomed into a cultural phenomenon and an estimated $1 billion-plus brand spanning everything from ice-cream and trading cards to an attraction at Walt Disney World Resort.

"As a reality show, it's unique in that regard," said Brad Adgate, a vice president at advertising buyer Horizon Media.

"Idol" has partnerships with phone company AT&T for fan voting, with iTunes for contestant song downloads, and record company RCA and its sister labels, where Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and other past winners have cut albums.

But clouds are gathering on the horizon.

Co-producer 19 Entertainment reported its revenue from "American Idol" declined $4.1 million to $24.7 million in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, as the recession dented sponsorship deals.

The show, which pits aspiring singers in a series of competitions focused on a musical theme each week, has seen a 7 percent viewership drop this season on the Fox network, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media conglomerate.   Continued...

<p>The top five finalists of the television show American Idol (from L-R) Adam Lambert, Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen, Danny Gokey and Matt Giraud pose at the BritWeek 2009 party in Los Angeles April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>