Despite Declines, ‘American Idol’ Remains Dominant

Season 11 premiere draws a 7.4 in the demo

Season 11 of American Idol got off to a somewhat rocky start as the two-hour premiere failed to live up to last year’s debut.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same day data, the season opener averaged 21.9 million viewers, down 17 percent from the 26.3 million live-plus-same-day viewers who tuned in to last season’s premiere. The show took an even bigger hit in the demo, averaging a 7.4 rating among adults 18-49, down 25 percent from the year-ago 9.8.

Idol peaked in the 9:30 p.m. half-hour, averaging a 7.8 in the demo.

Despite the year-over-year declines, Idol crushed its 8-10 p.m. competition. With a 5.1 in the demo, only ABC’s Modern Family was within shooting distance.

The return of the four-headed juggernaut was particularly rough on NBC’s Wednesday night “Happy Hour.” Two weeks into its new 8 p.m. time slot, Whitney dove 20 percent to a series-low 1.6 rating, while lead-out Are You There, Chelsea? plunged 26 percent to a 1.7.  

Chelsea premiered on Jan. 11 to 6.18 million total viewers and a 2.3 rating. The ratings sample suggests that Idol may have spirited off as many as 2 million viewers. 

Season to date, only Sunday Night Football and the premiere of Two and a Half Men have rung up a bigger 18-49 number than last night’s Idol. The Sept. 19 debut of CBS’ 2 Broke Girls also came close (7.1).

Idol has been the top-rated program among the all-important 18-49 set for five of the last six seasons, making the show a model of consistency despite its many casting changes. Last year, only SNF beat Idol in the demo, averaging an 8.0 rating to Fox franchise’s 7.5.

In its first season without crankypants ringmaster Simon Cowell—Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler officially joined the party on Jan. 19, 2011—Idol actually saw growth in total deliveries, averaging 23 million viewers, up from 22.5 million in 2009-10. (At the same time, the demo slipped 6 percent from an 8.0.)

Idol has grayed considerably since it premiered in 2002. In its inaugural run, the series boasted a median age of 31.9 years; last season’s 47.4 marked a 49 percent increase from Season 1.

Media buyers estimate that the average cost of a 30-second spot on Idol’s Wednesday broadcasts is around $500,000. Thursday’s results show is a bit cheaper ($470,000). Sunday Night Football boasts the steepest sticker price in prime time; a :30 ran around $515,000 during the 2011-12 campaign.

Tonight (Jan. 19), Idol goes head-to-head with ABC’s Wipeout, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and ¡Rob!, NBC’s 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation and the CW’s The Vampire Diaries.

Leading out of Idol is Episode 2 of The Finder, which should improve markedly from its Jan. 12 premiere. The Bones spinoff averaged just 5.45 million total viewers and a 1.7 rating in its 9 p.m. Thursday slot.

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