Days before country singer Tate Stevens was declared the winner of "X Factor's second season in the U.S., show creator and judge Simon Cowell said the show's success was owed to the younger audience it brought to Fox. In the week of the finale, Dec. 17-23, "X Factor" pushed Fox to No. 1 among teens for the week, as its Wednesday and Thursday finales were the highest-rated programs among Adults 18-49, total viewers, adults 18-34 and teens.
That's Cowell's spin on the year. But big changes are in store for the show's third season -- and not just the replacement of judges L.A. Reid and quite possibly Britney Spears, since sponsorships and the grand prize are also up in the air.
While it was posting wins in December, the show's second season, which started in September, was down 8% among adults 18 to 49 on Wednesdays and 7-10% on Thursdays in the same demo, according to Nielsen Media Research. "The Voice," meanwhile, saw ratings increases in its first fall season and routinely beat "The X Factor' in all key demos.
Pepsi put up a hefty $60 million for a presenting sponsorship of "X Factor's" debut season, which included an unprecedented $5 million recording contract with Epic; that package was continued for Season 2. But with Season 1 winner Melanie Amaro's debut still awaiting release after missing its December target and L.A. Reid vacating his judge's chair, Pepsi expected to pursue alternate prizing for future seasons. A Pepsi executive declined further comment when reached by Billboard.
"It's tough for an advertiser or a sponsor or pay a prime CPM of $30 or $35 for a show that does the broadcast average," Michael Parent, senior VP of broadcast at TargetCast, said of the cost-per-thousand viewer rates that determine TV ad pricing. "Once they start asking the General Motors or Pepsis to pony up major sponsorship deals again, they may see some pushback."
With Reid departing his coaches' seat and Spears likely to not be asked back, Cowell and Fox are likely looking at significant budget constraints for season three. No free-spending on a star name for a coach's chair and, as Cowell told Billboard at the beginning of the season, the $5 million recording contract prize is probably a thing of the past.
A season three is guaranteed, but the failure to convert Britney buzz into ratings will likely be reflected in "X Factor's" ad rates, which are set in May.
"Going into season three, if Fox tries to still consider it a premium show, they could have some problems - 25% [average decline in total viewers over Season 2] is a pretty big drop-off," says Gary Carr, senior VP/executive director of national broadcast at media-buying firm TargetCast. "They make all these talent changes hoping to strike gold, but they didn't even do as well as when they had Paula Abdul."
Fox charged an average of $245,000 for a 30-second spot for "The X Factor" on Wednesdays, according to Ad Age's 2012 survey of 30-second spot prices. That was down from the $321,000 average in its first season. By comparison, "American Idol" is taking an equally hefty dip in its coming season, sinking to $341,000 from $503,000 in 2012, according to the Ad Age survey.
"Voice" viewership has been consistently below 8 million total viewers, with 3 million-3.5 million in the coveted 18-49 demo, according to Nielsen, putting its two editions in the high teens/low- to mid-20s each week when ratings are released.
"American Idol," "X Factor" and "The Voice" will all be in similar situations in the coming year: Each show will be welcoming at least two new judges/coaches - Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban at "Idol"; Shakira and Usher at "The Voice"; and two rookies at "X Factor." Ad rates were set prior to the shakeup at "Idol," but buyers of TV time are likely to be cautious.
"There's nothing in the show that indicates there'll be a ratings increase next year," says Sam Armando, senior VP-director of SMGx Strategic Intelligence, a division of media-buying firm Starcom MediaVest Group. "Even if they make a judge change, the only history we have to go on is this year, where that didn't make an impact."
Armando also noted that "X Factor's" ratings among adults 25-to-54-year-olds are down 22% on Wednesdays and 30% on Thursdays, a troubling sign that the show won't be able to lure enough older viewers to make up for the attrition among younger viewers like "The Voice" was able to do this season. "The Voice," which just concluded its third season, attracted a record 14 million viewers to its finale, according to Nielsen.
The combination of "The Voice" and "Sunday Night Football" helped NBC win or tie for first in the 18-49 demo for 11 of the season's first 13 weeks. It's the first time since 2003 that NBC has been No. 1 at this point in the season.