NEW YORK — A sharp decline in viewers for the season finales of The Voice and American Idol this week raises the question of whether music competition shows on television are fading out.
The year’s final American Idol on Fox on Wednesday was seen by fewer people than any Idol-crowning moment since the series began in 2002. The Voice has bypassed American Idol in popularity, yet Tuesday’s season-ending episode was down 25 percent from the 2013 finale, the Nielsen company said Thursday.
“Perhaps the viewing tastes have changed, have evolved,” said Brad Adgate, a TV analyst for Horizon Media. “There are ebbs and flows as to what is a popular programming genre or not and it seems like music competition shows have run their course. Particularly younger viewers are looking for what’s next.”
Fox has already cancelled Simon Cowell’s The X-Factor for next year. The ratings slide for American Idol, this year with judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick, Jr., has been well-documented but is particularly stark when looking at finales for the past few years.
Wednesday’s show, where North Carolina rocker Caleb Johnson became the season 13 champion, was seen by 10.1 million viewers, Nielsen said. The season finale reached 14.3 million people last year, 21.5 million in 2012, and 29.3 million in 2011. That’s down 66 percent in three years.
This year’s show had a 9 share among viewers aged 18-to-49, meaning 9 percent of viewers in that age group watching TV at the time were watching Idol. The show’s peak was in 2006, when 36.4 million people watched the finale, which had a 36 share among younger viewers.
Fox has taken the show’s downfall into account in scheduling, saying it will air fewer hours next season and in many weeks only one episode instead of two.
“Idol is not going to come back to be the ratings champion it once was,” said Kevin Reilly, Fox’s entertainment chief. “But we believe the show can be on for many years to come.”
The Voice decline is in some ways more alarming, because it has been a linchpin in NBC’s comeback since starting in 2011. Tuesday’s finale, where Usher team member Josh Kaufman won the top prize, reached 11.7 million viewers. That’s down from the 14 million who saw the conclusion of the last competition in December, and the 15.6 million who watched last spring.
Jeff Bader, NBC’s top scheduling executive, said The Voice had stiffer competition this week than last year, when the season ended in June.
NBC has not changed its pattern for The Voice next season, expecting to air two episodes each week and separate competitions in the fall and spring. Bader said he expects having Gwen Stefani and Pharrell replace Shakira and Cee Lo Green as judges will invigorate the show.
He said it’s too early for NBC to consider cutting back on the show’s hours. NBC will no doubt want to see how decreased competition in the genre, with no The X-Factor in the fall and fewer American Idol hours in the spring, will help The Voice.