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LAYING WASTE TO ALL THAT COMES BEFORE IT: Returning to a TV season populated by what the Los Angeles Times calls “the walking wounded,” American Idol is surpassing even the most chilling expectations by becoming even more profitable, according to a Times story on the ad dollars the Fox musical reality show is drawing.
"You have the No. 1 program in television for the last four years, and now it's going up against even weaker competition," Ray Dundas, a senior vice president at the ad-buying firm Initiative, told the Times. (Intuition represents such clients as Home Depot, Bayer, Coors and Hyundai Kia.) "Idol is going to do very, very well."
Last season’s Idol is widely considered the weakest since it began, and viewership was down, but that had no apparent effect on the show’s bottom line. “Fox declines to disclose how much it earns from the show,” wrote the Times, “but according to TNS Media Intelligence, which tracks ad spending, Idol last year collected US$810 million in revenue, up 39 per cent from 2006. Some analysts estimate the show's ad revenue could soar 20 per cent this year.”
Thirty-second spots on the show this season were apparently selling for $750,000, but as the ongoing writers’ strike made it apparent that Idol would have Tuesday and Wednesday nights to itself for most of the winter and spring, commercial time has been selling for a $1,000,000 and upwards depending on its placement in the show’s run. By comparison, time on hit shows such as Survivor and Grey’s Anatomy goes for between $250,000 and $400,000.
The bad news (for writers and producers of scripted drama) keeps coming in, with a New York Times business story confirming another prediction – that reality would lucratively flood into the vacuum left by shows either absent or forced into reruns. Reality shows like Supernanny, Wife Swap, The Biggest Loser and the celebrity makeover of The Apprentice have all done impressive numbers on their return to the air, and NBC’s American Gladiator – yes, the zombie revival of the lowbrow show that ran from 1989 to 1997 – is an outright hit, “something no new scripted show this season has been able to claim,” according to the Times.
Dancing With The Stars and Survivor are getting ready to return, and CBS is giving reality dinosaur Big Brother a spot in the regular TV season for the first time. “If I were a writer and I saw ratings like that for a show that costs far less than Chuck, I’d be scared to death,” said one unnamed network exec, while new NBC entertainment box Ben Silverman rubbed salt into the wounds: “Time periods may be lost to scripted shows,” Silverman said. “If you’re a writer, you don’t want to kill that golden goose,” and added that “CBS can fill three hours a week with Big Brother for about five bucks.”
There’s been a lot of idle talk about viewers abandoning network programming for cable shows during the strike – and I’ve been as guilty of it as anyone else - but that’s beginning to look more like wishful thinking, blown away the Idol facts.