American Idol’s decline marks end of an era for broadcast TV

From Crain’s New York:

Fans of American Idol will be rooting for their favorite singers this week as the contest show moves deeper into the voting rounds. But television industry observers have been focused on a different sort of competition ever since the seemingly unbeatable Fox hit started its 11th season in January. And there have been plenty of upsets.

Two weeks ago, CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory knocked Idol out of first place for the evening, the first time that’s happened in five years. And last week, NCIS drew more viewers—another first.

Idol’s decline this season marks more than just hiccups in an extraordinary run. For some observers, its sudden vulnerability, caused by a double-digit ratings plunge, signals the end of an era in which broadcast television could produce massive hits (think Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends) on a regular basis.

Worn down by competing singing contests and audience fatigue, Idol is becoming one more casualty of the media fragmentation that makes television a smaller medium every year.

“This could be the first time in the history of broadcast television that there isn’t a regularly scheduled show—not counting sports—that averages 20 million viewers,” said Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media. “[Network executives] used to say, ‘Cable can’t do this.’ Now broadcast can’t, either.”

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