Sorry, Simon: Olympics Slay ‘American Idol’

For the first time since 2004, Fox’s musical powerhouse suffers a loss as NBC’s Vancouver coverage soars

Last Updated: February 18, 2010 @ 10:31 AM

"American Idol" may be mighty, but even Simon Cowell’s no match for Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn.

After years of experiencing an uninterrupted thrill of victory, Fox’s unscripted locomotive finally met the agony of defeat Wednesday night, as NBC’s coverage of the Vancouver Olympics easily outdrew "Idol" in both viewers and adults 18-49. It appears to be the first time since 2004 that "Idol" hasn’t won its timeslot (since May 17, 2004, to be exact, according to NBC).

Boosted by White and Vonn’s gold medal performances, NBC’s Wednesday Olympics lineup averaged an 8.9/23 in the key demo and 29.3 million viewers from 8-11 p.m. The Olympics actually peaked in the 9 p.m. hour vs. "Idol," with the games drawing 30.6 million viewers for the hour and "Idol" attracting 18.4 million.

Things weren’t so mismatched in terms of the demo, however. "Idol" pulled a still-impressive 6.9/17 Wednesday (vs. a 9.0/21 for the 9 p.m. hour of the Olympics.) Still, NBC was up 48 percent over the first Wednesday of Torino in 2006, when "Idol" more than doubled the Olympics’ score.

It didn’t help that Wednesday’s "Idol" was just a continuation of Tuesday’s drawn-out two-hour reveal of this season’s top 24. Producers seemed to be daring viewers to tune away by offering up just brief snippets of performance footage from finalists and by spreading out the unveiling of the finalists over three hours — the first time "Idol" has so tortured audiences.

Conversely, NBC’s Olympics coverage Wednesday featured all sorts of Win, with big victories by Americans. And while critics have once again started whining about NBC’s decision to tape-delay key events, the Tweeting and e-mailing of key U.S. victories no doubt spurred viewers who might otherwise have ignored the Games to check out what they knew ahead of time would be a happy ending.

While Wednesday’s win has to be a big morale lift for the haggard Peacock, Fox executives probably aren’t crying too much today. The network is all but certain to win the season in adults 18-49, and overall, "Idol" is still holding up amazingly well for a nearly decade-old franchise. And early buzz seems to suggest that Ellen DeGeneres is fitting right in as an "Idol" judge (though the real test of her appeal won’t come until next week, when "Idol" begins — finally! — live shows).

Oh, and as expensive as "Idol" is, it’s still a heck of a lot cheaper than the Olympics, which NBC has said will lose $250 million this year.