'Idol' Showing Age but Still Delivering Golden Eggs for Fox

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

America has voted: Kill the golden "Idol."

An overwhelming 69% of people responded affirmatively to Ad Age's poll question asking whether Fox ought to pull the plug on "American Idol." That's a whole lot wider margin than the 2% separating this year's winner Lee DeWyze from runner-up Crystal Bowersox.

But at the risk of getting hooted down like Simon Cowell giving a cruise-ship critique to a wide-eyed contestant, we're going to come out and say Fox should not cancel "Idol." For starters, the program is a $900 million franchise, according to the New York Post, which is a lot of money to walk away from. And it can likely make a lot more without the estimable Simon, who was paid a reported nine-figure salary.

Sure, the ratings are falling faster than Clay Aiken's iTunes ranking -- 24.2 million viewers watched this year's finale, according to Nielsen, down from the peak of 36.4 million for the 2006 finale. But just try finding 24 million people at once on a single web-video stream, podcast or Facebook page. What's more, in a TV economy where marketers seek out advertiser-friendly broadcast events, scale and engagement, "Idol" has them all.

Granted, the engagement has been seriously eroding of late. For Season 8, there were more votes cast in the showdown between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert than votes cast for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election; this year "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest didn't even disclose the number of votes cast. Even so, there are huge numbers of blogs and entertainment sites closely covering all things "Idol," suggesting the relationship can be rebuilt.

What will be crucial is the talent, both behind the judging panel and before it. The "Idol" producers have their work cut out for them in finding a satisfactory replacement for Simon (it can be done: Look at Kara DioGuardi, who at first was a wholly disappointing replacement for Paula Abdul but seems to have found her stride). But more broadly, they need to find a way to make the program relevant enough again to draw a more diverse audience that will vote in a less predictable winner.

So let's give it one more season, Fox. As Randy would say, "You're pitchy, dawg, but you can pull it out."

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