The End of 'American Idol': Former Nr. 1 Show in Ratings

Rayvon Owen, American Idol

Rating history of the show that used to win TV seasons in the most relevant 18-49 target group.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It's official: Fox cancels 'American Idol' and plans just one more season in 2016. What happened to the show? We bring you ratings analyses.

Current season: Declining, still good enough for Fox

Three seasons ago, 'American Idol' was the most watched show (excluding sport) on U.S. broadcast television in ad-relevant 18-49 target group. Now the situation is different, the show is 25th with Thursday episodes and 34th on Wednesdays.

So far this season, FremantleMedia's singing competition format has averaged 2.9 rating on Thursdays and 2.7 on Wednesdays in the demo (including 7-day time-shifted viewing) according to Nielsen. These numbers are still better than channel's average; Fox has 2.0 rating in 2014/2015 season.

'American Idol XIV' season averages
(includes episodes aired prior to May 10. All data are “most current,” meaning inclusion of time shifted viewing up to 7 days if available. Source: The Nielsen Company)

Target group Day # of homes/persons Rating Show v. channel's average
18-49 Wednesday, 8:00 3.3 mil. 2.6 +0.6
18-49 Thursday, 8:00 3.7 mil. 2.9 +0.9
2+ Wednesday, 8:00 10.4 mil. 3.5 +1.5
2+ Thursday, 8:00 11.6 mil. 3.9 +1.9
Households Wednesday, 8:00 7.3 mil. 6.3 +2.7
Households Thursday, 8:00 8.0 mil. 6.9 +3.3

When it comes to weekly development we see clear decline. Thursday airings had been affected by new episodes of CBS shows 'The Big Bang Theory' and 'Grey's Anatomy' starting Week 19. Since Week 23 there has been a genre competitor of 'The Voice'. NBC's singing competition airs on different days than 'American Idol', but might have some influence on viewers and their demand for singing competitions.

Wednesday episodes achieved 2.0 or higher live+same day ratings until Week 26. They served as a lead-in for new Fox drama 'Empire', highest-rated show of the season. 'Empire' ended on 26th week of the season and since then 'American Idol' never reached 2.0 live+SD rating. It was also affected by reality competitor 'Survivor'; CBS show saw a good season with no sign of decrease over previous season.

'American Idol XIV' weekly
(target group 18-49, live+SD. Source: The Nielsen Company)

Long term decrease

There were times when FremantleMedia singing format got double-digit ratings: in 2005/2006 it averaged 12.8 on Tuesdays and 12.2 on Wednesdays in young demo and just live+same day viewing.

'American Idol' lost its position as nr. 1 U.S. show after 2011/2012 season - then it was a tie with 'The Voice' (both 'The Voice' and 'Idol' on Wednesday had 6.1 live+7 rating). Later 'American Idol' decreased more quickly than 'The Voice'.

The gap between 'American Idol' and Fox was getting smaller: from almost doubling the home channel's ratings with season XI to less than one rating point margin with seasons XIII and XIV. 'American Idol' has always improved Fox's performance but it has also been a pricey show. Broadcaster tried to cut costs in 2012 as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. For the current season XIV there was a significant cut in airing hours - from usual 60 hours per season to less than 40. Moreover, Fox lost Coca-Cola as a sponsor ahead of the season.

All these factors - high price and shrinking ratings - led to the decision to bring just one, very last season of 'American Idol' in January 2016. "The show has seen both its ratings and relevance fade in an increasingly crowded landscape," says The Hollywood Reporter.

Note: All data for season 14 are preliminary, including only episodes prior to May 10. Finale is set to air on May 24.