To call “American Idol” the rising tide that each January lifts all boats for Fox-affiliated stations would be to understate the hit show’s ability to boost ratings and multiply revenues.
“Idol” began its sixth season on Fox Jan. 16 with an astounding 37.3 million viewers. Last Tuesday, “Idol” at 8 p.m. almost outdrew President Bush’s State of the Union speech on the Big 4 broadcast networks combined. According to data from Nielsen Media Research, the State of the Union added up to 32.7 million viewers on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC combined, while “Idol” racked up 32.6 million.
“In a lot of markets `American Idol’ beats the competition combined,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP, programming, for Fox Television Stations.
During “Idol’s” season-premiere week, Fox owned-and-operated Chicago station WFLD-TV logged year-to-year ratings increases of 14 percent for the talent competition. “Idol’s” halo effect helped WFLD log a 33 percent increase in viewers for 10 hours of its weeknight prime-time programs among viewers 18 to 49, the demographic most sought after by advertisers.
The positive effects of “Idol” are illustrated by WFLD’s experience. The station’s Tuesday newscast in November, before the talent show was in the lineup, attracted a 5 percent share of the people watching TV at that hour. On Jan. 16, with “American Idol” as its lead-in, the news attracted a 13 share, according to Pat Mullen, VP and general manager of WFLD and Fox-owned MyNetworkTV affiliate WPWR-TV.
“We price our late news accordingly,” he said.
Mr. Mullen said WFLD’s cost per ratings point for advertising buyers is very similar to that charged by other, more powerful stations in Chicago, the third-largest TV market in the country.
“Idol” helped push the combined Tuesday-Wednesday late local news ratings average 127 percent higher than it was during the November sweeps across the Fox owned-and-operated stations, Mr. Cicha said.
In Spokane, Wash., KAYU-TV has an extreme case of “American Idol” fever. In addition to running the syndicated “American Idol Rewind” on weekends, it is running a scratch-off competition with the Washington Lottery to give away a $20,000, five-day, four-night trip to Los Angeles for the “Idol” finals.
The station also presented its own “Spokane Idol” competition, the winner of which, Amanda Tsubota, is one of three people from KAYU-TV’s market who were sent to Hollywood for a round on the national “Idol.”
With Fox getting strong performances from “Idol,” the returning “24” and “House, advertisers have lined up, KAYU General Manager Jon Rand said.
“It’s almost like, `Do you need to buy [advertising time on] any other stations in the market?”‘ Mr. Rand said. “Each year it gets increasingly easy to bring buyers into `American Idol.”‘
Buyers will pay a premium for “Idol” spots, Mr. Rand said. The station tries to sell clients on a season-long package of prime-time buys or a package including time in “American Idol Rewind,” he said.
Back in Chicago, Mr. Mullen said Fox’s midseason lineup has helped WFLD’s late local news finish No. 1 in the 18 to 49 demo. He’s counting on the “Idol” phenomenon to last through the May sweeps ratings period, which helps set stations’ ad prices.
“I wish [“Idol”] went 52 weeks,” Mr. Mullen said.