Farewell To American Idol: Did It Go Out on a High Note?

13 April, 2016

On April 7th, long-running cultural juggernaut American Idol concluded its final season. Not only did the show, which ran 15 seasons on FOX, launch the careers of real stars like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, it heralded the current era of reality TV. American Idol was a massive success for FOX and so naturally inspired competing shows on other networks. Some, like Rising Star, also focused on singing talent, but others broadened the format to include other performance skills.

As of last year, five competitors to American Idol were on the air. The Voice features singing, So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars focus on dance, Last Comic Standing showcases stand-up comedy, and America’s Got Talent has a variety of skills. What unites them all is a focus on performance and audience participation, where viewers voted for their favorites each week in a system pioneered in the US by American Idol. With so many similar shows on the air, did the original, American Idol, go out on top in terms of demand?

To assess the performances of the six shows, their demand over each of their most recent full seasons are plotted below. Each line begins with the demand on the day of the first episode and features spikes in demand for each weekly episode. The length of each line corresponds to the length of the season: Last Comic Standing was the shortest while America’s Got Talent ran for 17 weeks.

The three most popular performance shows—American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and The Voice—all had similar levels of demand during most of their runs. However, demand for American Idol clearly rose as the final season approached its end. While most of the shows had a significant increase in demand for the final episode, American Idol’s spike is the largest, increasing over 120% from the penultimate episode to reach over 60 million Demand Expressions™. Though demand and linear views for American Idol have not been as high as in years past, the show attracted lots of attention for its final episode.

Overall, the average demand for American Idol’s most recent (and final) season was higher than all its competitors except for Dancing with the Stars:

Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and The Voice, which all air during the September to May TV season, are the top performance shows by demand, while the summer-airing shows America’s Got Talent, Last Comic Standing and So You Think You Can Dance have less than half of their demand.

When American Idol is gone next season, FOX will be left with only the least in-demand performance show, So You Think You Can Dance. ABC’s Dancing with the Stars will be the undisputed top performance show on the air, while NBC’s shows, which are currently middling by demand, may grow without the strong competition of American Idol. American Idol changed the landscape of television when it arrived 15 years ago, and we look forward to see what effect its absence has on the world of American TV.







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