The Rise and Fall of Texting — and American Idol

Text messaging took off around the same time as American Idol, with the number of texts outpacing the number of calls for the first time. In the third quarter of 2012 the number of texts sent took a dip, the first since the technology was adopted.

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In advance of the premier of season 13 of American Idol, AT&T has announced that it is closing out its sponsorship deal with the show. Less than a year ago AT&T told VarietyAmerican Idol is the ultimate wish fulfillment show, and remains a powerful platform for AT&T to connect directly with our customers.” So what changed? The decline of texting happened.

American Idol has been around since 2002, and text message voting has been available since the second season. Text messaging took off around the same time as American Idol, with the number of texts outpacing the number of calls for the first time. In the third quarter of 2012 the number of texts sent took a dip, the first since the technology was adopted.

The integration of text messaging into American Idol may have been a key part of the show’s success. The voting aspect of the show drew viewers in, giving them the power to impact the outcome of the show directly. Sending a dozen text messages per show could get a person to see the practice as a normal use of their phone. Season eight of the show was particularly text message heavy with 178 million texts being served by AT&T, double that of the previous season.

Of course, these trends may be correlation and not causation. American Idol has seen a shift in the median age of its viewers to 51 for the 2013 season, and there has been a decline in viewer numbers overall. If AT&T’s investment in the show is no longer showing a return, then it makes sense for them to step away. Ford scaled back its advertising investment too, sponsoring only one of the twice-weekly episodes.

In fairness, text messaging has been on the decline lately. Not only is it starting to trend downwards, but it’s unlikely that there will be a comeback. Whether it’s for increased privacy, functionality or to avoid network fees, users are opting for other messaging programs.

Texting won’t disappear, and neither will American Idol, but maybe they’ll both fade into obscurity.

Image credit: Darren Wittko