American Idol: Increased traffic, fewer conversions, buzz kill

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American Idol: Increased traffic, fewer conversions, buzz kill

Courtesy of Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer Blog
“Audience growth doesn’t necessarily mean sales growth.”

. . . Now where have I heard this before?

Ben cites some amazing statistics of the phenomenon that is American Idol. I’ll admit it, I won’t consider myself a fan, but I watch the show. I already have a few favorites, one is a young man named Sundance Head. If you didn’t hear his audition, check it out. You will probably hear of him very soon. Wait, I guess that does make me a fan . . . drat!

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As I am writing this, YouTube is removing the American Idol audition clips for copyright violations. Great job AI, nice way to beat down a loyal audience. You have the ultimate buzz builder happening right in front of you and you kill it with lawyers, good call.

Anyway, the American Idol statistics are very interesting. The best album sales were in the first two seasons, and even though the viewership, ratings, ad costs, revenue, and total votes have increased, the sales have not kept the same pace; in fact the sales have declined in many years. They certainly don’t match the growth of the attention.

American Idol Audience v Sales Chart

According to Ben,

As the audience for Idol has grown, as has the number of votes cast for its contestants, album sales of winning performers have not kept pace. First-season winner Kelly Clarkson is still the show’s reigning sales champ. If we divide the number of albums she’s sold against total number of Idol viewers for season one and call it a conversion ratio, Clarkson scored an impressive 65%.

The disparity between Idol’s viewership and albums sold is most pronounced in year three. That year, Idol’s viewership increased 16% from the previous year, and the number of votes cast increased 22%. Yet season three winner Fantasia Barrino sold 69% fewer albums than previous winner Ruben Studdard. Barrino’s conversion ratio was a paltry 9%.

Compare year one to year five and the numbers are even more dramatic: 12.7 million viewers in year one vs. 30.6 million in year five. That’s a 141% increase. But look at album sales: year five winner Taylor Hicks was no match for the petite yet powerfully voiced Clarkson: His album sales were four times less than Clarkson’s. Hicks’ conversion ratio? He’s in the basement at 7%.

That’s not to say Soul Man Hicks and the other Idol winners haven’t done well. Selling one million of anything is remarkable, much less two or five million. Idol remains a potent hitmaker for aspiring amateurs. No other program comes close to popularizing a pro-am approach.

When I first saw this chart I was amazed. This is much more a phenomenon and a cash cow for the producers – for the singers, not so much. When you consider the outgrageous growth of viewership and audience involvement, but yet the lack of album sales, it seems contradictory. The price increases for the 30 sec commercial far outpace the viewership, which is interesting.

There could be many contributing factors, one of which is that the contest itself is the attraction rather than the singers themselves. I enjoyed both Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks, but I haven’t bought the albums. Now that I think about it, I didn’t buy the Bo Bice CD because it didn’t sound anything like who he was on the show. I was looking for some throwback southern rock, not pop-produced psuedo-rock sound. A producer’s heavy-handed influence was very obvious, so it didn’t appeal. Maybe that is the key – the show is more exciting because the singers have a choice in what they sing, but seemingly no choice when they get the record contract.

However, in terms of success for the show – it’s outrageous. Ad revenues have skyrocketed and the buzz is mainstream. The singers after the show? Well, that’s just not the same . . .

Is the conversion less exciting than the journey? In this case, I tend to think so.

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About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.

2 Comments

  1. havingfun February 7, 2007 at 12:16 am - Reply

    To Ben and all others out there – All I can say is DON’T WALK, RUN – RUN TO BUY TAYLOR HICKS’ ALBUM.

    It. Is. WONDERFUL !!!!!!!

  2. Mendi March 14, 2007 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Are you forgetting to take into account that Kelly clarkson has had an extra five years to earn that huge amount? Carrie, from season four, has earned almost three quarters the amount of Kelly Clarkson, in only one quarter of the time. The chart shows sales to date, so naturally season one would have more records sold than season four or five.

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