'AMERICAN IDOL' SAILS INTO 5TH SEASON

Buyers Believe Fox Juggernaut Will Boost Key Ratings Race

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Can Fox fuel “Idol” fever for a fifth season?

Buyers seem to think so. And Fox, whose ratings for the sought after 18-to-49 demographic are off 9% season-to-date from the same period last year, is betting on a strong premiere Jan. 17 to give it a boost in the ratings race.

Two nights a week of “American Idol” account for 10% of Fox's first- and second-quarter programming lineup. If its audience holds up to last year’s, “Idol” will also account for about a third of the network’s total adult 18-to-49 ratings points.

“Everything will have its run ultimately,” said Steve Sternberg, exec VP-audience analysis at Magna Global. “But Fox has been very smart. They haven’t overplayed it, so when ‘Idol’ comes back it seems fresh.”

Not losing steam
Cingular, Ford Motor Co. and Coca-Cola Co. are back as sponsors, and buyers say there’s no indication that the show, which airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights, is losing steam. In the past year, it has withstood scandals surrounding judge Paula Abdul’s alleged fling with a contestant, another contestant’s criminal record and contentious contract negotiations with cranky judge Simon Cowell.

Last year, many -- including then-Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman -- expected the show to be down, given it was in its fourth season. But the premiere improved on the previous season by 17%; Ms. Berman told Advertising Age she’d “never been happier” to be wrong.

Advertisers are betting a lot on the show.

According to Ad Age’s 2005-06 network pricing chart, the price of a 30-second spot running in the Tuesday night edition is $496,866 and $518,466 for the Wednesday edition. That means Fox, which uses the show to help package its other network inventory, rakes in more than $10 million in “Idol” advertising revenue a week, based on the network’s 10 minutes of advertising an hour.

Advertisers love schedule
“I see no indication or reason why ‘American Idol’ shouldn't continue to be a strong performer for Fox,” said one broadcast buying executive. “If the show and the cast are compelling, viewers will find the show regardless of the night it is airing on.” For two weeks during February sweeps, “Idol” will move its Tuesday-Wednesday one-two punch to a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule, with the results show on Thursday. It’s a move entertainment and retail marketers, who prefer to advertise closer to the weekend, love.

Two nights a week of “American Idol” account for 10% of the network’s first- and second-quarter programming lineup. If its audience holds up to last year’s, “Idol” will also account for about a third of the network’s total adult 18-to-49 ratings points, Mr. Sternberg expects.

Also new this year is the more integrated IdolOnFox.com, a result of Fox Interactive Media’s recent five-year Internet rights deal with “Idol” producer FremantleMedia North America.

Ad sales on Web site
IdolOnFox.com lets fans create profiles, watch video and play games. In the first 20 minutes the site was up, more than 6,000 people created online profiles, said John Trimble, senior VP-Fox Interactive Media ad sales, which is selling inventory on the site to “American Idol” marketers and also those outside the show.

While there remain just three main sponsors for the TV show, Fremantle was doling out the licensing -- more than 32 different companies have rights to make “American Idol” products, everything from watches and shower radios to toothbrushes and toothpaste. Mattel holds the license for Barbie and Konami, famous for its karaoke machines, can make “Idol” video games.

But is buying into the show’s high price worth it?

Worth the ad dollars
According to IAG Research, a typical Coke ad in “American Idol” generated 46% higher awareness than those same ads that ran outside the show. Cingular’s “American Idol” awareness was 25% higher and Ford’s 22% higher than those brands’ averages outside of “American Idol.”

“That means the show is keeping the audience engaged,” said IAG Co-CEO Alan Gould.

“It’s very powerful, particularly for a brand that’s part of the show,” said Fred Dubin, managing partner-director of entertainment marketing and promotions at Mediaedge:cia, which counts Cingular among its clients.

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