Wayne Friedman wrote a thought provoking piece in his daily TVWatch column on MediaPost saying that from the viewer's perspective with all the reality on, the writer's strike may as well still be in full swing. Friedman notes that American Idol, even with its 9.8 rating/25 share among 18-49 year olds this past Wednesday night was a performance 37% below the demo rating for the season premiere.
Friedman wonders why "...Idol isn't breaking records -- or on the upswing - since it has virtually no competition."
Friedman goes on to compare it to the generally (bad) competition and reality fare it's up against. I do not share Wayne's wonder and amazement though, heck, I'm impressed Idol has been able to thoroughly dominate the broadcast airwaves. I like Wayne's columns a lot but I am perhaps more of a numbers junky and a big picture kind of guy. It doesn't make sense to me to simply compare Idol to what's on broadcast - it has to be compared to the bigger picture.
Idol doesn't just compete with its broadcast competition. In fact, during the Wednesday 9pm hour, adding up the share data (which represents the percentage of people with their TVs turned on who were watching a show), the broadcast networks combined had less than 50% of the audience of people who were watching TV. So even at 9pm with Idol on, in total if you add up ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and the CW...more people were watching "everything else" (it was close, my math has it around 47% percent for those networks, 53% for everything else).
In that environment that American Idol could capture 25% of the audience with their TVs on (total, not just in the 18-49 demo) in this day and age is downright amazing to me.
Further, the world is changing. The competition isn't just what's on "right now", but also what's on my DVR, on-demand or what I could watch on DVD, etc.
Still, I think Friedman is right with his conclusion, that "...the real battleground is how well new scripted episodes do against those reality shows starting next month - when reality TV typically picks up speed as the shows get closer to their final rounds." It will tell us something about how much scripted programming we can reasonably expect to see on the broadcast networks in the future.
Also, if anything the writer's strike did push more people to cable, on-demand, DVR/DVD etc. This was bound to occur anyway, but I'm not the only one who thinks that the writer's strike sped the migration up.