'American Idol' Inspires Less Watercooler Chat

Word-of-Mouth Research Indicates Talk Has Dropped at Offices, Schools

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "American Idol" is still the nation's most-watched program, but somehow this year people have a lot less to say about it. Daily conversations about the popular Fox talent show have sharply decreased since last year, according to a survey of Americans between the ages of 13 and 69 conducted by Keller Fay Group, a New Brunswick, N.J., market research firm that specializes in word-of-mouth analysis.
'American Idol' judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.
'American Idol' judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

Results were culled from surveying about 7,800 people this year, and 8,500 in 2007. Keller Fay conducts online interviews with a national cross-section of respondents and uses rolling four-week averages, said Ed Keller, the firm's CEO.

Missing millions
"A year ago, about 9.9 million people were talking about 'American Idol' on any given day during the season," Mr. Keller said. "This year, it's 5.9 million. It's still a lot of people, but it's pretty big drop."

The findings would seem to bolster a general feeling that "American Idol" has lost some steam. The singing contest's ratings overall have dipped a bit since last season, though Fox executives and others expected that result; the writers strike, which affected first-quarter ratings at many of the broadcast networks, reduced the number of people tuning in to a wide variety of TV favorites.

Fox has said it hopes the show is more energetic next season. "I'm satisfied creatively, but not necessarily satisfied with the performance," Peter Liguori, Fox's chairman-entertainment, said during a recent conference call with reporters. "I can share with you and assure you that both the network and the producers really want to take a look at the show and see what we can do to inject it with new levels of energy."

Despite the shifts in the program's buzz, people still overwhelmingly like the show. The quality of this year's talk is more positive, according to Keller Fay, with 68% of 2008 conversations demonstrating positive qualities, as opposed to 54% in 2007.

Dinner-table fave
Meanwhile, Keller Fay also found that chatter about "American Idol" has shifted to the home from the office or school. Conversations about "Idol" at work or school fell to 25% in 2008, compared with 37% in 2007. Meanwhile, conversations about the program at home rose to 63% in 2008, compared with 52% in 2007. Likewise, a greater percentage of people surveyed said they were talking about the show with members of their family -- 60% in 2008 vs. 42% last year -- rather than with co-workers, 16% in 2008 compared with 31% in 2007.

One big reason for the show's diminishing watercooler appeal is its lack of a standout contestant. In years past, "Idol" watchers have often had an oddball or a person with a strange past, such as Fantasia or last year's Sanjaya. This year, the contestants have been somewhat more straightlaced. "I think it still has quite a strong showing going on, but I think you've lost a little bit of the intrigue," Mr. Keller said.
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