Explaining “For now.”

So . . . what DID Ryan mean when he ended the Last Idol Finale Forever with, “Goodbye. For now.”

The kindling for that comment was laid down all the way back in 2010. We’ll go back there in a moment. But the spark for that fire was lit last week when Simon Fuller made strong suggestions to the music media that this would not be the end of Idol or at least the end of his innovating around the idea of involving fans in finding musical talent among people with a dream. The Evil Genius Producers fanned the flames of those sentiments in Tuesday’s American Idol: American Dream retrospective and Ryan pretty much poured gasoline on those flames at the end of the Finale.

The cancellation of Idol represents an interesting business problem for Fox. They now have to find a replacement for a currently rated Top 15 show that still draws 10 million viewers. Do you risk a lot of your development budget in the hopes of creating something that will eventually draw those kinds of ratings? That’s a very risky proposition. Or do you hit pause to retool and reboot a known entity with fifteen years of goodwill behind it?

So . . . 2010 and Season 9[1] – that was the first year Idol allowed artists to manage their own Twitter and Facebook accounts. The Top 24 featured a breakout acoustic performance of Paula’s Straight Up by Andrew Garcia who immediately became the competition’s frontrunner. Andrew came to the show as something of an internet sensation with his YouTube videos – a new tool for artists to find and reach fans, and his popularity on the show created a problem. Idol’s promise is that the show gives viewers unknowns; viewers become fans; and the fans turn the unknowns into stars. The problem with Andrew is that he came to the show with a substantial fanbase, which in the Evil Genius Producers’ minds gave him an unfair advantage. It also controverts the purpose of the show.

Idol solved the problem by making the Idolists deactivate their personal Twitter and Facebook accounts and consolidating them into a show-related fan page. Eventually they would re-embrace social media but Idol’s reaction to Andrew back then was to make the same mistake that the music business – and by the business I mean the industry – has made EVERY time there was a change in technology[2], i.e. actively resist it. In this case, the social media era of music was already the driving force of the business. And Idol tried to limit that force’s impact. The reality music shows that followed weren’t very innovative with social media, either, and the result has been that no big stars have come from any of these shows since 2010[3].

Simon Fuller, the visionary behind Idol recognized this but his hands were tied. How do you recreate the format of the #1 TV show in America without alienating your 20 million viewers (at that time)? The strategy ended up being to minimally incorporate the interweb into the show as the show slowly marched into irrelevance. Allowing Idolists to have their own social media accounts, Twitter saves, and real-time Google voting were some of these minimally invasive tweaks.

And then this year, Idol made a small change that had a huge unexpected impact – the immediate posting of performance videos from the broadcasts to the Idol Facebook page. PEOPLE ATE THIS UP!!!!!! Can I interest you in ONE BILLION HITS to the page just this season? 360 MILLION views of videos just this season? 12 MILLION followers of the page? Or how about the video of Kelly Clarkson’s emotional Piece by Piece performance getting 76 MILLION views and 1.5 MILLION shares?

And it was more than just the sheer size of these numbers that got the attention of Fox and the Evil Genius Producers. Not only were large numbers of people eating it up, they all wanted to eat at the same time, i.e. people in western time zones didn’t want to wait for the cold leftovers. They wanted to eat the food hot when it was being served to everybody else[4].

Another key development in a possible Idol 2.0 came in March of this year when Simon Fuller announced that he had become the largest shareholder in a digital media company in order to “co-produce a series of entertainment properties and virtual reality experiences”, and further pursue the impact technology has on the music business.

What Simon has steadfastly believed in is that fan engagement is still a viable way to entertain and discover future stars. He also understands that the old model of viewers in front of a television only is no longer enough to create the necessary level of engagement. Again, how successful have the recent winners of reality music shows been?

What the surprising numbers from Idol’s Facebook page are telling everybody is that there is a huge demand for Idol’s content AND to be able to engage that content immediately – just not during a particular television time period. Music fans increasingly want to be a part of the experience and not merely observers. I see this at concerts all the time. People spend almost as much time on their cell phones  – tweeting, Instagraming, Snapchatting, shooting videos and taking pics – as they do watching the show.

So then for Fox, the question isn’t merely how do we fill a time slot on television. The question is how to create something that takes advantage of content that can generate ONE BILLION clicks on a single Facebook page and 360 MILLIONS views of performances. Do they want 10 million people to watch a show at a specific time or hundreds of millions of people engaged in constant, real-time and on-demand interaction around that show’s content?

Nobody knows what Idol 2.0 will ultimately look like. What we do know is that Simon Fuller, Fox, and the Evil Genius Producers have been thinking about this for a long time. And it’s clear that they’ve decided to embrace the current and future music business rather than one that no longer exists.

And that seems to be what’s happening “for now”.


[1] The Off-Key Lee Dewyze season. Also Crystal Bowersox, Casey James, Big Mike Lynche and My Girl Siobhan Magnus.

[2] And I do mean every change beginning back in 1906 when the famous bandleader John Philip Sousa wrote a denunciation of the first audio recordings, “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” Record discs, radio, tape, CDs, downloading, and, of course, streaming all met similar vehement resistance.

[3] Interestingly, once Melanie Martinez was voted off the Voice, she successfully built a substantial fanbase using YouTube videos and other social media.

[4] Even to the point of Idol posting the Finale results on the page real-time.

Explore posts in the same categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

One Comment on “Explaining “For now.””

  1. […] formula for creating stars simply doesn’t work any longer. So they decided to end the show with vague hints that it might return with a rebooted version more attuned to the ways of the current music […]

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