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Fox Execs "Relieved" About 'Idol' Premiere Ratings

Tune in for the ninth season premiere of American Idol
Jan. 12 held steady compared to last year's season opener and even gained in
key demographics, bucking a recent downward trend for what is still
television's most popular program by a long shot.

"We're relieved," said Preston Beckman, executive VP,
strategic program planning and research at Fox.

Idol posted an 11.8 rating among adults 18-49, up 1%
compared to last season's opener, with a 10.7 rating among adults 18-34, for a
7% year-to-year bump. The two-hour opener attracted 29.9 million total viewers,
according to time-zone adjusted data from Nielsen. That's down slightly from
last year's 30.1 million, but a good start nevertheless.

Beckman theorized that the show's ratings performance may
have benefited from a marketing strategy that "pushed the authenticity" and
"emotion" rather than the train-wreck auditions of seasons past.

"Clearly people want to root for kids and see them succeed,"
he said. "And that will always be the dominant focus of the show and
has also has become the dominant focus of the audition [episodes].

"It's also fun to watch people who think they can sing and
they can't. But we realized that we had gone too far in making the auditions
into a freak show."

Of course, the current season of Idol is also Simon
Cowell's swan song as he preparers to bring his British talent competition
program X Factor (where Susan Boyle was discovered) to Fox in 2011.
The addition of X Factor will give Fox a continuous menu of performance
competition programs with Idol continuing to air in the first and second
quarter, So You Think You Can Dance in the summer and X Factor in
the third and fourth quarter.

Beckman disputed the notion that X Factor would
dilute the potency of Idol.

"Last time I looked, there were three other networks that
would kill for X Factor. So one way or the other it was going to get on
the air. I'd rather have it [on Fox] than have some other network saying, Okay
now we're going to take down Idol with [X Factor]."