Sharp-tongued Simon Cowell arrived in the U.S. from Britain 12 years ago as the face of a show so powerful that competitors coined it the “Death Star” because it destroyed everything around it.
But Cowell’s effort to follow “American Idol” with his own force-of-nature singing contest has ended with a whimper.
The U.S. version of Cowell’s U.K. hit “The X Factor” is now an ex-show, and that’s no surprise to those who have followed its three-year run on Fox.
Once viewed as the next “American Idol,” also an adaptation of a British show (“Pop Idol”), it failed to achieve the ratings heights Cowell and the network were looking for, and its high production costs could no longer be justified.
Before the show launched in 2011, Cowell, never known for his modesty or shyness, said that if the show didn’t get 20 million viewers, it would be a disappointment.
It never came close.
The first season of “The X Factor” averaged 12.3 million viewers and the last season had about 6.8 million, a drop of more than 40%, according to Nielsen’s numbers.
Fox’s decision late Friday afternoon to cancel the series just one day after Chase Carey, chief operating officer of the broadcaster’s parent company 21st Century Fox, said falling ratings for the show contributed to lower profits.
The last season’s finale drew an average of about 7 million viewers overall, down about a third from the previous year, and it fared even worse in the key 18-49 age group. Viewership among that advertiser-desired category was down more than 40%.
Though “Idol’s” viewership has sagged over the last few years (it’s now in its 13th season), it still routinely dwarfs the total audience of the “X Factor” finale. Making matters worse, NBC’s “The Voice” emerged as a force of its own and was much more popular than “The X Factor.”
Another factor in the worries surrounding these shows: the high cost of celebrity judges. When “Idol” first aired, it had a relatively modest budget, featuring former pop star Paula Abdul and the previously little-known Randy Jackson alongside Cowell.
But the influx of big names deciding who’s a star and who isn’t has driven costs for these shows up. Recent “Idol” seasons featured the likes of Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr., while the “X Factor” roster has included Britney Spears, L.A. Reid, Demi Lovato and Kelly Rowland.
Despite the disappointing ratings, Cowell remained optimistic that he could turn “The X Factor” around. Late last year, he told reporters the show would return for a fourth season. However, Fox executives were not as confident.
“It has to be something worthy of trying, and not just putting the same show back on,” said Kevin Reilly, Fox’s entertainment chief.
Fortunately for Cowell, the British version of “The X Factor” is still going strong and has a seat waiting for him.