"American Idol" returns to the airwaves tonight, kicking off its seventh season.
Though dropping viewership numbers last year raised concerns about the future health of the franchise, thanks to the writers' strike eliminating most of the competition, Idol is expected to be more popular and more profitable than ever.
Ratings across-the-board are down, and with big events like the Golden Globes effectively canceled, advertisers are starved for ratings--so the tried-and-true Idol brand is a savior. Especially because advertisers know that the other networks wouldn't bother pitting their best content against Idol--why bother going up against such a juggernaut?
When Fox started selling ads for Idol they were going for about $750,000 per 30-second spot, which is about double the price of ads on the most popular scripted shows.
But once the writers' strike shut down scripted programming and ratings continued to drop across the board, advertisers rushed to Fox,and paid as much one million dollars and more for just 30-seconds of airtime on the show. Fox brought in $810 million in revenues from Idol last year and is expected to bring in 20 percent more this year.
So yes, a network is thriving while the strike drags on. Surprise? Not really, from the beginning it was clear that Fox and News Corp were best equipped to handle the strike because of Fox's stronghold in reality. What it means for the rest of the networks is that they'll continue to invest more in reality.
The fact that new reality shows like NBC's "American Gladiator" have done so well out of the gate, indicates that viewers will channel surf to whatever new content they can find, and a good reality concept will grab viewers. No, it doesn't mean that the networks will stop making scripted shows. Hardly.
I'm dying for my scripted shows back, and the networks will put the hits back on air. But because it's so much cheaper to produce reality instead of scripted shows, I bet the networks will be a bit more judicious about which, and how many, new scripted shows they produce. It's less expensive to have a reality show bomb than a scripted one disappoint.