American Idol ratings down, has disregard for viewers, but who cares: it’ll make money

American Idol‘s ratings and buzz are down significantly, but it’s making money and may do better next year thanks to the economy, and that’s pretty much all that matters.

This season, the show has an average of 24.4 million viewers, which is down 7.5 percent from last year; among 18- to 49-year-olds, it’s down 8 percent. But that’s “still 72 percent ahead of its nearest rival,” Reuters reports.

Worse, USA TODAY notes the show “has declined 12.8% for the finals weeks alone, compared with the same period last year,” and “In the past two weeks, the Tuesday performance show dipped below 20 million viewers, which hasn’t happened since Season 2 in 2003.”

Dancing with the Stars has beaten Idol in the ratings this spring, and its host Tom Bergeron, told Broadcasting & Cable, “I’m loving it. I get a kick out of the fact that it’s probably making them a little crazy. But also American Idol is like an 800-pound gorilla, and you don’t want to poke it too much because they could just come back.”

In a perfect summary of this season’s woes, Bergeron said “Idol is having the season we had last season, which is everything’s just a little out of phase, not quite working. Simon’s got one foot out the door, Ellen’s getting her bearings, Ryan is overcompensating, the [contestant] lineup is being attacked for not being great.”

As the St. Petersburg Times’ Eric Deggans argues in a great column, the series “is on the verge of spinning off into oblivion, fueled by its own erratic disregard for both the contestants and the fans.” Deggans notes that “some shows have staggered start times, beginning one or two minutes after the hour, to make it tough for fans to record shows on other networks,” but Idol runs over randomly. A Fox spokesperson told him, “”While the producers always aim to end the show on time, American Idol is a live performance show and as with all live programming, there are unpredictable elements that affect running time.”

That is, of course, bullshit, especially when you consider the 24-minute overrun that happened recently; they could have easily just scheduled the show to be 150 minutes because they had that much content, but they didn’t. But I agree that the franchise is crashing and burning, especially when you add Ryan Seacrest’s self-absorption and the blah contestants.

Today, USA TODAY’s Robert Bianco suggests several fixes, too, echoing Deggans’ plea for the show to end on time, and adding things such as “muzzle the host” and “give Ellen a job.”

All of this is on point, but it may not make much of a difference in terms of the show’s future and the bottom line. First, Fox exec Mike Darnell told USA TODAY that the ratings are fine: “While it is down, it’s not major. It’s still extremely dominant in all measures.”

And Reuters reports that “a better economy, among several factors, should buoy the show’s ad revenue, experts said.” That’s because this year’s “ads were sold when the economic outlook was more bleak and advertisers were slashing budgets. Ahead of the upfronts, the sentiment for 2010/2011 seems to be shifting.”

Advertising Age editor Brian Steinberg said that when upfront ads are sold this year, “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.”

“American Idol” Ratings Down, but Ad Sales Seen Up [Reuters]
Here’s one way American Idol can win back fans: End the show on time [St. Petersburg Times]
Quietly Dancing To the Top [Broadcasting & Cable]
‘Idol’ ratings take a dip and Time for producers to fix ‘Idol’ franchise [USA TODAY]

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