The X Factor Stumbles Out of the Gate

Record low ratings for Season 3 premiere

Fox has a black hole punched through the middle of its prime-time schedule, and if the Season 3 premiere of The X Factor is anything to go by, the void is only going to get more ragged at the edges as the season progresses.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, Wednesday night’s opening round of auditions drew 6.45 million viewers and a series-low 2.2 in the all-important 18-49 demo. The X Factor premiere plummeted 26 percent from the Season 2 opener’s 8.73 million viewers; more disturbingly, the demo marked a catastrophic 33 percent decline from the year-ago 3.3 rating.

While it’s impossible to make a neat apples-to-hand grenades comparison between one year and the next (last season, Fox scheduled a two-hour Factor premiere), the 8-9 p.m. segment of the Season 2 premiere drew a 2.7 rating. As such, the relevant decline was 22 percent.

If last season’s results are any indication, even seven days of DVR playback won’t help Factor find its way. The Wednesday night show saw a 17 percent lift in adults 18-49 (3.5, up from a 3.0 in live-same-day deliveries), while the one-hour Thursday edition improved 18 percent (3.3, up from a 2.8).

Competition series don’t draw anywhere near as many time-shifted views as do scripted shows. On average, both nights of Fox’s American Idol improved 19 percent upon application of the L7 data, while NBC’s The Voice averaged an 18 percent lift. By comparison, Fox’s drama series The Following last season soared 65 percent after L+SD was converted to L7 (2.3 to 4.3), while the comedy New Girl grew 61 percent (3.7, up from a 2.3).

Another spot of concern for Fox is that last year’s X Factor premiere arguably went up against a much tougher roster than last night’s show. Preliminary data had Factor and The Voice tying with a 3.3 in the dollar demo on Sept. 12, 2012; when the final live-same-day numbers were in, both shows were upgraded to a 3.4 rating.

CBS’ Big Brother won the 8-9 p.m. time slot outright, averaging 6.83 million viewers and a 2.3 in the 18-49 demo. Meanwhile, NBC’s much-ballyhooed interactive game show The Million Second Quiz appears to be circling the drain, dropping to 5.17 million viewers and a 1.3 rating in the demo, down from 5.88 million viewers/1.4 on Tuesday night and 6.49 million/1.7 in its Monday premiere.

It is an understatement to say that the early results for Factor are not at all encouraging. For one thing, the show accounts for 20 percent of Fox’s fall inventory. For another it’s hard to imagine that Factor will have much room to improve when the 2013-14 campaign begins in earnest. Among the shows it is scheduled to compete with are CBS’ Survivor and Criminal Minds; NBC’s Revolution and Law & Order: SVU; and ABC’s two-hour comedy block that includes The Middle and Modern Family.

Things may be even tougher on Thursday nights when the one-hour edition of Factor faces The Big Bang Theory and The Millers (CBS) and ABC’s new spinoff Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. NBC’s Parks and Recreation and Welcome to the Family and the CW’s The Vampire Diaries could also abscond with younger viewers.

The X Factor returns for a two-hour episode (8-10 p.m.) tonight. But for the fourth installment of Million Second Quiz, a one-hour Big Brother and a half-hour CBS fall preview, Factor faces nothing but repeats on broadcast. NFL Network kicks off its Thursday Night Football slate with a Jets-Patriots grudge match, while ESPN counters with Big 12 football (Texas Christian at Texas Tech).