Ford, Coca-Cola Return for Season 13 of American Idol

AT&T, veteran sponsor No. 3, drops the call

American Idol on Wednesday returns for its 13th cycle, and while two long-time sponsors will be on hand to get the party started, a third has left the fold.

Ford and Coca-Cola, which have served as official Idol sponsors for each of the past 12 previous seasons, will be in the wings in Boston’s Marriott Copley Place when the show reconvenes for the first round of auditions tonight at 8 p.m. 

As has been the case in every earlier Idol cycle, both brands have committed to full-season sponsorships. As the official automotive sponsor, Ford vehicles will be featured in Idol’s weekly Thursday night segments.

Other exclusive Ford-branded content will be available on

In addition to retaining its place at the judges’ table, Diet Coke and Coke Zero will be featured in linear spots and online executions. The soft drink giant is also backing exclusive behind-the-scenes content on the Idol website.

Not joining the two returning veterans is telecom titan AT&T, which has elected not to return after a 12-year stint. AT&T in 2012 was the No. 2 biggest investor in broadcast TV, spending some $674.6 million.

While it’s always tough to break up after a courtship of a dozen years, Idol can at least take some solace in the fact that it didn’t lose all of its big backers. Last fall, General Motors and Pepsi bailed on the struggling Fox musical competition, The X Factor.

Since premiering in the 2001-02 broadcast season, Idol has grown steadily greyer with each passing year. According to Nielsen, the median age of Idol’s Season 1 audience was 31.9 years old; in 2012-13, that number had grown 61 percent to 51.2 years.

After averaging  a series-high 30.3 million viewers and a staggering 12.4 in the adults 18-49 demo in Season 5, Idol’s deliveries have fallen in every succeeding year. Last season, the competition series averaged 13.2 million viewers and a 3.8 in the dollar demo, and while that represented a 69 percent drop versus the 2005-06 high-water mark, Idol still closed out the year ranked sixth in the all-important metric.

According to media buyers, the average cost of a 30-second spot in the Wednesday night Idol performance broadcast dropped around 10 percent versus the year-ago-rate to nearly $310,000 a pop.

Fox Broadcasting entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly on Monday said that Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban have contributed to a “great vibe” on the set, he still anticipates that Idol’s ratings will likely fall again in Season 13.

“The space is crowded [and] that has certainly led to further stress on Idol,” Reilly said during the Q&A portion of Fox’s executive session at the Winter Press Tour. “As long as there are this many hours of these competitions, it does fragment the audience a little bit. 

“But I also anticipate that it's going to be a really good season, and I hope we flatten out over the course of the year and have it be a great season for us.”