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A New Low for Fox's 'Idol' -- And a Possible Explanation for Its Sharp Ratings Decline TVbytheNumbers, NY Times

The onetime ratings juggernaut “American Idol” continues to see its numbers erode, and after Thursday’s episode sank to a historic low, one TV writer offered a possible explanation.

TVbytheNumbers.com reports that “Idol” fell to a 2.7 average rating in the key 18-49 demo, based on Nielsen overnights. It was the lowest number ever for any installment of “Idol” on any night, the website reports, and a loss of two-tenths of a ratings point from last week.

Fox managed only a third-place finish for prime time overall, behind ABC and CBS, which finished in a dead heat for first place in viewers 18-49.

Bill Carter, writing in The New York Times, says part of the problem with “Idol” appears to be old age, in TV terms, with the show now in its 12th season. But he also notes the impact of a relative newcomer, NBC’s rival singing competition “The Voice.”

“On Monday, ‘The Voice’ scored a 4.7 rating in that 18-49 group,” Carter writes. “On Tuesday it managed a 3.9 rating (about 6 million and 5.1 million viewers, respectively). This follows up a fall in which ‘The Voice’ convincingly topped Fox’s other singing show, ‘The X Factor.’”

But Carter notes that “Idol,” which is deeper into its current season than the newly arrived “The Voice,” typically trends lower in the middle of its season.

“It is still too early to crown ‘The Voice’ as the new king of the singing competitions, because in its first outings this season Fox’s ‘Idol’ scored notably better numbers than the first two episodes of NBC’s ‘The Voice’ this week,” Carter writes.

Thursday’s 2.7 average for “Idol” in 18-49 marked only the second time in history that the show has dropped below a 3.0 -- with the previous Thursday being the first time, Carter notes.

Thursday’s number “was for one of the ‘Idol’ elimination shows, which are traditionally lower-rated than the performance shows,” Carter notes. “But that number came one day after Wednesday’s ‘Idol’ recorded the lowest-ever rating for a performance show, a 3.2 rating (about 4 million viewers).”

Carter adds: “Both numbers were down sharply from the prior week, from a 3.6 for the performance show and a 2.9 for the elimination show. While ‘Idol’ generally trends lower in the middle of its season, one notable change took place on the network schedules between those weeks: ‘The Voice’ returned on NBC.”

While admitting it’s too soon to crown “The Voice” as the champion singing show, Carter adds: “If ‘Idol’ continues to sink, and ‘The Voice’ sustains its numbers, that may be the inescapable conclusion by the end of this season."

Preliminary numbers reported by TVbytheNumbers -- with the disclaimer that CBS’s coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament will be subject to significant adjustments -- show ABC and CBS tied at No. 1 for prime time with 2.3 average ratings in the key 18-49 demo, followed by Fox (2.0), Univision (1.4), CW (0.9) and NBC (0.8). NBC’s rare sixth-place finish came on a night when the network aired mostly reruns.

In a close race for total viewers, Fox came out on top with 7.5 million, followed by ABC’s 7.1 million, CBS’s 6.9 million, Univision’s 3.5 million, NBC’s 2.6 million and CW’s 2.0 million.