Can Product Managers Save “American Idol”?

Can American Idol be brought back from the dead?
Can American Idol be brought back from the dead?
Image Credit: alogou1775

So who among us has not heard about the famous TV show “American Idol”? This is the show where anyone can try out to be on the show and the best singers are then selected to compete in a multi-week competition in which one of them will eventually be crowned the “American Idol” and potentially get a lucrative recording contract. This show used to be very popular, then it fell out of popularity and eventually ended up getting canceled. However, now another network is thinking about bringing it back. Can their product managers change its product development definition and bring a once popular TV show back from the dead?

What Happened To American Idol?

Let’s make sure that we all understand the history of American Idol. American Idol ran for 15 seasons on the Fox television network. It started out as a big money maker for the network and it ended up as a money loser in its final season. It succumbed to both declining ratings and rising costs. Two years ago, the Fox network declared American Idol dead and presented a big “final” season. However, now the ABC television network is betting that its product managers have the skills that will be needed in order to bring this television show back to life. What is this going to end up looking like on their product manager resume?

One of the differences between the ABC version of the show and the Fox version of the show is that ABC is showing that it is willing to spend significantly more on its judging panel than Fox did in its final seasons. So why is ABC willing to relaunch the American Idol show? Television broadcasters are losing viewers to both cable and streaming services. Coming up with hit shows is very hard to do. What this means is the more and more often the television broadcasters are choosing to go with known quantities – rebooting shows that have been canceled. What is basically happening is the networks are willing to try anything in order to determine if it will attract viewers. ABC believes that the American Idol franchise still has the ability to draw what they want the most – an audience.

When the product managers at ABC first started to think about bringing American Idol back, a number of people wondered if perhaps it was too soon to be talking about doing this. The Fox network had spent US$25M promoting the final season of American Idol as just exactly that – the final season. Fox network thought that it would be seen as fraudulent if the show was brought back so soon after having gone away. The ABC product managers are not so concerned about this because they believe that American Idol has broad appeal. The thinking is that American Idol is a form of storytelling that comes across as being both optimistic (I think that I’m going to win) and joyful (I won!). The ABC product managers hope that viewers will want to watch the new American Idol as a family. When it was on, American Idol was very popular. It attracted 20M viewers in 9 of its 15 seasons. Eventually its viewership dropped to under 10M and the show became very expensive to produce and lost $60M in its last two seasons.

How Can American Idol Be Brought Back?

The ABC product managers are going to have to be careful and make sure that they are able to keep production costs under control. In the previous version of the show, the salaries of the judges was one of the main reasons that the show lost so much money in the final two seasons. At it’s peak, Fox had been able to sell 30 second commercials on American Idol for $500,000. When they were able to do this, paying judge Simon Cowell $30M per season was easy to do. However, by the time that the show had lost half of its viewers during the shows last five years, ad revenue started to go down and all of sudden the salaries of the judges became a big deal. The ABC product managers are going all in when it comes to their judges. It is estimated that their costs for judges will be 60% higher than Fox’s was overall.

The ABC product managers think that they know what they are doing. They understand that they have made substantial investments in the talent of the judges for their version of this show. There are some issues that the ABC product managers may end up having to deal with. The talent that they plan on using to manage the flow of each episode is Brian Seacrest. However, he is currently dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Mr. Seacrest has denied the allegations and an investigation by the NBC broadcaster where the incident took place revealed not enough evidence to support the allegation. ABC has decided to stand behind Mr. Seacrest.

The ABC product managers understand that determining if their new American Idol show is a success will be difficult to do. They are going to have to take into account more than just the show’s ratings and how much it costs to produce. One thing that is easy to overlook is that the American Idol show is going to end up occupying a great deal of ABC’s prime time schedule. What this means is that ABC is not going to have to develop or market new shows to fill these time slots. What this means for the ABC product managers is that the costs associated with creating their new American Idol show all of a sudden become a lot easier for the company to absorb. Ultimately its going to come down to whether or not ABC is going to be able to sell commercials on their new version of American Idol. Right now things are looking very good – ABC is reporting that they have already been able to sell 75% of American Idol’s commercial time.

What All Of This Means For You

In its heyday, the television show American Idol was very, very popular. However, after 15 seasons it become just too expensive to continue to produce and the Fox television network ended up canceling it. Now the product managers at ABC have taken a look at their product manager job description and are planning on bringing the show back. Is this going to be a good idea?

American Idol aired on the Fox television network for 15 seasons. During its last two seasons, it lost money for the Fox network. Fox heavily promoted the final season of American Idol as the last season ever. Now the product managers at ABC are planning on bringing it back. ABC is willing to relaunch American Idol because coming up with new shows is hard and risky work. American Idol already has a fan base that ABC thinks that it can appeal to. The ABC product managers see American Idol as a form of story telling that has happy endings. They think that families will be willing to watch this show. One of the things that brought down the first version of the show was how much the judges were being paid. ABC is planning on paying their judges even more. Despite currently fighting some sexual harassment lawsuits, Brian Seacrest is going to be the host of the new American Idol show. One advantage of adding this show to their playlist is that it will take up a lot of ABC’s broadcast time and that will eliminate the need to create and market additional programs.

The ABC product managers are taking a bit risk. They are planning on bringing back a television show that had been canceled because of poor ratings. They think that they can create a new show that everyone will want to watch. Anything is possible and I believe that a lot of people still have a positive impression of the show. We’ll have to watch carefully and see if the ABC product managers can pull this off!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What should the ABC product managers do differently with their version of American Idol in order to attract more viewers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So for just a moment, picture yourself as a product manager for one of the most iconic products out there: Coke-Cola. You’ve done a great job – Coke is one of the most popular drinks available and no matter what country you go to, it is very well known. The company makes an enormous amount of money from your soft drink product every year and in all honesty, traditionally you’ve only had one real competitor – Pepsi. However, in the past few years, things have started to become a bit more challenging for you. More and more of your customers are staring to reject the sugary beverage that you are offering them and instead they are choosing to drink water and sports drinks. What’s a product manager to do?