Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The War of 18-49, The X Factor


Scheduling history: Because this was a particularly important series in primetime TV, I'm waiving the four-year rule for War of 18-49 posts and chronicling The X Factor's three-season run. All three The X Factor seasons took place on Wednesday and Thursday. It was almost always two hours on Wednesday and generally one on Thursday, though Wednesday was shortened to 90 minutes during season one to launch new sitcom I Hate My Teenage Daughter.

See (who saw) how it all began: Could Fox have another music competition with American Idol-esque ratings in the fall? That was the expectation for the huge international format The X Factor, which also featured the American return of super-famous Idol judge Simon Cowell. But out of the gate, The X Factor was only about a "half-Idol," premiering on 9/21/11 to 12.49 million viewers and a 4.4 demo rating.

The best of times: The good news was that The X Factor held up very well from there; it dropped only a tenth in its first Thursday airing the next night, and then to a 4.1 the next Wednesday. It even returned to 4.4 territory for a Tuesday edition on 10/25/11. Even through the end of season one, it was getting low-to-mid 3's, at least on the main night. It was no Idol, but season one was legitimately a big hit.

The worst of times: But it was all downhill from there for The X Factor. Expectations were again high for the season two premiere as Britney Spears came on board as a judge, but season two began at just a 3.4, or over 20% behind the series premiere. Again, it initially held up very well post-premiere (even beating the premiere number several times), but dipped into the 2's in the second half of the season. It really went off the rails in season three; the 2.2 premiere was down more than a third, and then the show soon vanished for three weeks due to baseball. (In previous seasons, Fox had aired it on Tuesdays during October to keep the lights on.) It came back at a paltry 1.5 and actually got as low as 1.2 on the main night (11/27/13) and 1.0 on the results night (11/28/13). The finale got back to 1.7, but that was still 45% behind the season two finale.

Then vs. now: It may not be an exaggeration to say that The X Factor was the beginning of the end for Fox's half-decade reign of terror in primetime. At first, it brought the network to historic levels of strength in their usually troubled fall, but there was a price. The subsequent spring was the first time American Idol took a drop well above the league average. That would've been acceptable if both X and Idol had held from there, but the damage only continued on both fronts. Now The X Factor is leaving the air a below-average show, and American Idol can barely even be called a "hit" anymore, and forget about a triple-league-average "Death Star." It seems X put a dent in that seasonal "event" feel that made Idol so special. While I think cancelling the show is the right decision if only to try to shore up Idol, the show's weakness was a bit exaggerated by the late-season episodes (which are always weaker on these shows). Fox may struggle to match The X Factor's 94 A18-49+ with the stuff that replaces it. But the way this show was trending, it's not like they were gonna match the 94 with The X Factor itself, either.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

Seas Year Timeslot Avg y2y Lo Hi Results Grade
1Fall 2011Wednesday 8:003.813.24.4detail
Thursday 8:003.592.64.3
2Fall 2012Wednesday 8:002.92-23%2.23.6detail
Thursday 8:002.79-22%2.33.5
3Fall 2013Wednesday 8:001.77-39%1.22.5detail
Thursday 8:001.68-40%1.02.2

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

Seas Year A18-49+ Label Now15 y2y Lo Hi Premiere Finale
1Fall 2011 161 big hit2.71 135 186 186 140
152big hit2.55110182182161
2Fall 2012 139 hit2.33 -14% 104 171 161 128
3Fall 2013 94 marginal1.58 -32% 64 133 117 69

For more on The War of 18-49, my look at the history of primetime TV's veteran shows, see the Index.


Spot said...

This is an amazing fall from grace. An 186 Plus to 53 in two years time

Spot said...

Good: Fox brass was smart enough to anticipate Idol's ratings decline, and to look for replacement timely. Nice long game played.

Bad: They picked The X Factor to be that replacement. TXH was very expensive show, while ratings were: disappointing in season 1, bad in season 2, and disastrous in season 3.

Awful: It actually made Idol declining faster, as audience was saturated with so many singing competitions.

Unexpected: In a domino effect, fall of Idol dragged entire Fox lineup down. Unexpected part here being ratings for most Fox shows went not just down, but enormously down.

Consequence: First Fox unscripted TV Czar Mike Darnell was asked to leave in May 2013, then Kevin Reilly was in June 2014, too.

Spot said...

You probably could add that so many singing competitions killed Glee, too. Too many hours in primetime devoted to music. The big networks chase each other's trends to the point where they kill it all off (sitcoms periodically, reality shows, etc.). I'm half-surprised there aren't more superhero tv shows out there than there already are.

Spot said...

Superhero shows are definitely on the rise.

Spot said...

What a drop.

An interesting showing of singing show declines because of a saturated trend. The X-Factor also came at the worst time possible, when The Voice was on the rise, so, with all of them (Idol, XF, Glee, Voice) canibalizing themselves, people picked NBC's choice.

Spot said...

Comic based shows are sure on the rise. Arrow, Flash, Constantine, iZombie, Gotham, The Walking Dead. Agents of Shield and Agent Carter also have comic origins, but are more based of the cinematic universe

Spot said...

god. is it really fathomable that just one show can bring down an entire network?

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