Just a few years ago, music-based television was dominating the ratings and the hearts of viewers. However, after a flood of shows inspired by “American Idol’s” initial success, the outlook for this genre doesn’t look too bright.
Simon Cowell, who was responsible for several music-based shows on television, has stated, “[Music shows] have flooded the market. There have simply been a ton of shows and something has simply gone awry.” Cowell served as producer as well as a judge on “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent.”
Lack of music shows going forward? It seems that the broadcast network executives are in agreement with that assessment. As they gathered in Manhattan for the spring upfronts, there was a jarring lack of music shows. However, it’s not rare for television to burn through a particular genre of show quickly. When a formula becomes a hit, it is repeated, reinvented and sucked dry by multiple outlets. As a result, audiences become tired of the familiar formula and look elsewhere.
Singers trying to get famous on variety shows is just the latest in a long line of genre burnouts. Nightly news magazines, like 20/20, were the standard for all networks in past decades. Game show hits like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and “Deal or No Deal” flooded the airwaves and then crashed in ratings.
Music shows had a long and successful run. “American Idol” alone spawned the music careers of several of its contestants and winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood most famously. However, Idol now garners ratings that are lower than even its flimsiest competitor in its heyday.
This spring, “Idol” fell to just 7 million viewers – compared to a season average of up to 30 million. It scored just a 1.7 rating in its category for viewers between 18 and 49. The show used to average 12.6 in that group. This season started at 4.7 in that category and declined steadily over the course of the competition.
Demographics are changing. Analysts point to the increasing age of the typical “Idol” viewer. Since the show has been on so long, loyal viewers may have aged out of the key demographic. The average age of viewers in the first year was 32, and now it is 52.
Since the viewers are older, and the viewership is declining, it is no longer an attractive asset for media buyers. Fox’s ad sales for the show have generated $3 billion in profit over the past 13 years, but those numbers are now a thing of the past. In fact, insiders say that many advertisers received “make-goods” in the last year – free advertising to compensate for shortfalls in their ratings guarantee.
Although “Idol” is still hanging on other shows have not fared so well. “X Factor” was brought to the United States from the UK by Simon Cowell, and still runs in 40 countries – just not in the U.S. anymore. Three seasons of declining ratings convinced Fox to pull the plug.
Some genres don’t do well. Competition shows aren’t the only ones to be victims of the music-based backlash. Other networks have experimented with the genre, but most results have been disappointing. NBC’s Broadway drama “Smash” initially had strong ratings, but failed to perform in its second season. “Nashville” on ABC barely squeaked by into a third season. Fox’s “Glee” is even struggling. The powerhouse music-drama used to average a 6 rating with the key 18-to-49-year-old group, but now it averages a 1 or below.
Another competition-style show “Dancing with the Stars” was “half canceled” by ABC last season. It reduced its airtime from twice per week (dance and results) to just one. NBC’s “The Voice” has stayed strong in comparison, but still struggles in the ratings.
For audiences and, therefore, advertisers it may be time to sing another song – or drop the songs entirely.
Peter Koeppel is president of Koeppel Direct, a full-service media buying agency based in Dallas. He can be reached at 972-732-6110 or online at [email protected], twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.