Can Mariah Carey Thwart Ad-Buyer Expectations?

As "The Voice" Gains Ground, "American Idol," "X Factor" Expected To Give Up C3 Points

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Are Mariah Carey and Britney Spears enough to thwart the intentions of skeptical media buyers?

Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey Credit: Bloomberg

Ad-buying executives are calling for the two pillars of the prime-time lineup of News Corp.'s Fox, "The X Factor" in the fall and "American Idol" in the spring, to wobble in the 2012-2013 TV season. According to Ad Age 's annual survey of household commercial ratings , both programs are expected to show declines in the metric known as "C3," or the number of people who watch the ads that accompany specific programs either live or up to as many as three days after the shows air.

Ad buyers are calling for "X Factor" to notch a commercial C3 rating of 5.8 on Wednesdays and a 5.6 on Thursdays this coming season. That's a noticeable tumble from the 10.22 on Wednesdays and 9.64 that were expected from the program last season, and shows just how lower advertisers' bar is for the program in its sophomore round. When it comes to "American Idol," ad buyers are calling for a household C3 rating of 8.0 on Wednesdays and 9.1 on Thursdays. Last season, expectations were for 10.51 on Wednesdays and 10.2 on Thursdays. Each ratings point is equal to approximately 1.15 million households.

"We are predicting some drop off for both of them, and I think it's tough," said Brian Hughes, SVP-audience analysis practice lead at Interpublic Group's Magna Global.

For Fox, the stakes are high. Because the network only shows two hours of prime-time programming Monday through Friday, "X Factor" and "Idol" make up the bulk of its lineup -- and "Idol" in particular has helped Fox capture the lion's share of audiences between the ages of 18 and 49, the demographic advertisers covet most, for the past several seasons. Each show airs over two separate nights, meaning that Fox has a heavier dependence on the two programs than ABC might with "Dancing With The Stars," for example (conversely, NBC may be heavily depending on "The Voice," the only surefire thing on its air other than football).

"Idol," a legendary program that has enjoyed more than a decade on the air, is aging, and has never seemed as vulnerable as it did this past season, when NBC's "The Voice" and even ABC's "Modern Family" were able to make inroads on its ratings during certain weeks. "X Factor," slated to be the breakout hit of this recently completed season, is a solid entry, but did not live up to hype from its creator, Simon Cowell, suggesting that it would be the next "American Idol" in terms of audience and influence.

With NBC slated to air "The Voice" on two nights during the week in both the fall and spring, ad buyers see more competition for the audience that once flocked to Fox. "It's a little bit of a question mark," said Magna Global's Mr. Hughes. "Is there going to be audience burnout with all the singing shows? It's six hours a week." And more, if one were to include "Dancing With The Stars" in this category.

Fox hasn't been complacent, with both executives from the network and its parent acknowledging "Idol" needs a fresh dose of energy to keep audiences interested. Fox said yesterday that Mariah Carey would join "American Idol" as a judge, not soon after Steven Tyler and Jennnifer Lopez acknowledged they were leaving the program. Fox expects to make more announcements about the program over the next few weeks, executives told reporters at a press conference held Monday.

The program's age makes the task of keeping a stable audience for it tough, said Mr. Hughes. "This past year, there were bigger drops, and I don't know if there's any way to really stop it at this point," he said.

In May, Fox said Britney Spears and Demi Lovato would join "The X Factor" as judges, part of an effort to add more appeal to the program in its second season. Meanwhile, first-season mainstays such as judge Paula Abdul have already departed.

If it's any consolation for Fox, ABC's "Dancing" is also seen garnering fewer commercial ratings points than last season. But NBC's "The Voice" is seen increasing its C3 take going forward. Whatever the final ratings tally for next season, it's clear Fox has more reason to protect its flank in the weeks ahead.

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