American Idol is #1 but loses 3.1 million viewers; AT&T spams customers about debut

American Idol 8‘s debut was the number-one show on television last night, but it also lost 3.1 million viewers from last season’s debut, about 10 percent.

Overall, 30.074 million viewers watched the Phoenix auditions and Kara DioGuardi’s debut, according to Nielsen data reproduced by TV By the Numbers. The AP reports that “Nielsen Media Research said that audience is down 10 percent” but it’s still the top-rated show so far this season; previously, “The Indianapolis-San Diego NFL playoff on Jan. 3, with 27.8 million, was the overall” highest-rated show.

Minutes ago, CBS president Nina Tassler told TV critics in Los Angeles that, against American Idol, “we retained 95 percent of our audience.” In other words, the show didn’t really draw viewers away from CBS.

Last year, the debut of American Idol 7 was watched by an average of 33.2 million people, its lowest debut ratings since American Idol 4; it, too, lost about 10 percent of its viewers from the season six’s 37.3 million viewers (35.5 million watched season five’s debut, 33.6 million tuned in for season four, and 28 million watched the start of season three).

Before the debut, AT&T sent millions of spam text messages to a “significant number” of its subscribers, including “heavy texters” and those who had voted by text during past seasons, an AT&T Wireless spokesperson told the New York Times. Mark Siegel said, “We want people to watch the show and participate. It makes perfect sense to use texting to tell people about a show built on texting.” He also said, “Text messaging is the perfect way for us to tell people about this wildly successful show and to watch it,” and said that “It’s clearly marked in the message what you need to do if you don’t want to participate. It couldn’t be more open and transparent.”

And, you know, unsolicited. While the messages were free, an exec at the anti-spam organization Spamhaus’ told the paper, “It’s absolutely spam. It’s an unsolicited text message. People who received it didn’t ask for it. That’s the universal definition of spam.”

American Idol ratings down 10% in overnight ratings [TV By the Numbers]
‘Idol’ draws 30.1 million viewers for season debut [AP]
A Text Arrives. Oh, It’s Just an ‘Idol’ Ad. [New York Times]