Is 'American Idol' Really Down and Out?

Yes, American Idol is down 26%-28% in adults 18-49 season-to-season, and yes it dipped a bit more in week two, and yes, CBS' The Big Bang Theory has either won or tied the mega talent show in adults 18-49 in its last two face-to-face outings on Thursday nights, but don't count American Idol out quite yet.

Big Bang is big, but its ratings pale in comparison to Idol, while Modern Family, which all the critics rave about and which has grown season-to-season, still brings in numbers far below Idol's among the 18-49 demo.

After 11 seasons on the air as America's No. 1 program, American Idol is still reigning as the top-rated non-sports program. And while down, the Thursday airing of Idol still bests the next highest rated non-sports program in primetime among adults 18-49 -- namely, Two and a Half Men -- by +10.47%, while Idol's Wednesday airing beats Men by a whopping +39.7% in the demo.

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The bashing Idol is taking in the press is somewhat similar to what happens to a candidate out in front in a run for the presidency: Whoever is on top is fair game to be taken down, and everyone looks for any weakness they can attack. And indeed, like any frontrunner, Idol definitely has developed some weaknesses.

While the show has been aging up, that's typical for a series with so long a run. Younger viewers have a greater propensity to tire of a program. Idol had a median age audience of 46.7 in May 2010 when it completed its eighth season, 48.7 in May 2011 as its tenth season ended, and began this season so far with a median age audience of 46.1.

But the same fate of long-running shows aging up worked against other shows, like CBS' Survivor, for example.

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In addition, Survivor has actually lost more adults 18-49 viewership since its premiere season in 2000 then Idol has. Interestingly, Survivor has steadily declined since its 2000 premiere run, while Idol, which premiered in 2002, actually hit its zenith during seasons five and six.

If we compare both versus their heights, Survivor has lost an astounding 73% of its A18-49 audience over the past 11 years, while Idol has lost about -53% (although this is comparing it only over a 5-year period versus 11 years for Survivor).

If we look at other long running shows, such as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, compared to their premiere seasons, losses are about 60-70% due to ever-increasing fragmentation and general aging of a series. So all-in-all Idol is running its course like any other long running show.

The bottom line is, Idol is still a force and still has a lot of steam. Don't expect to see it going away anytime soon.

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