'American Idol' Vs. 'The Voice': The Scorecard So Far (Analysis)

Whether you tune in for the talent on the stage, at the table or sitting in spinning chairs, how do the two singing shows truly compare? THR digs into the numbers.

A lot has been said and written about the rivalry between The Voice and American Idol. Whether comparing the talent or the judges or the format, on both sides of the primetime aisle, loyalists abound and are only getting louder. But who’s really in the lead when it comes to cultural relevance and series success? To get an answer, you have to dig a lot deeper than ratings, so THR did. Read on for the scorecard so far.  


Look at the numbers for both shows and the story is pretty straightforward. Idol has seen a season-to-date double-digit ratings drop from last year (to the tune of 22 percent in overall viewership) when new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were, well, new. The Voice got a nice premiere boost with a Super Bowl lead-in of 17.7 million, but has seen its numbers nose-dive in subsequent episodes, dipping some 39 percent so far this season. On the other hand Idol has seen a more steady pattern as live episodes kicked in, most recently notching a 4.9 share (or 17.1 million viewers). In comparison, on the week of April 2,The Voice had 10.8 million tuning in, down 11 percent from the same episode last year, which aired in the summer.

However, The Voice has tripled what NBC was averaging in its Monday time slot last year and added some nine million total viewers to its broadcast (Idol defectors, perhaps?). To hear NBC’s take on the ratings, when you factor in daylight savings time and the return of ABC’s popular Dancing with the Stars, competition is stiffer than ever and still the show has averaged 17.5 million viewers since its February 5 debut. The problem is when you factor out the Super Bowl numbers. An NBC insider contends The Voice is “the season’s No. 1 entertainment series among adults (men and women) 18-49, 18-34 and teens 12-17” and has been ranked No. 1, 2 or 3 among primetime programs its first 10 weeks in a row.” As for Idol, a Fox source tells THR, “This show has been king for nine years and everybody likes to tear down the king, but you have to look at what's real and factual and be honest -- Idol is beating it on demo week-after-week. The relevance of The Voice faded after the game show gimmick of the chairs and the battle rounds.” And those are some fighting words.

Winner: Idol -- even with a ratings slump, most networks would kill for the show’s numbers.

Audience Age:

Certainly Idol has been mocked at great length for being the chosen singing show of grandmas and tweens -- how else do you explain all those WGWG winners (that’s white guy with guitar to the uninitiated)? And indeed, its audience is older: 48 to be exact. The Voice’s median age hovers around 43, younger technically but marginally so, which makes the argument that it’s “a younger show” in spirit hard to justify -- at least where the viewers are concerned. The coaches are another matter. With an average age of 34, compared to Idol’s judges at 54, there is something to be said of The Voice’s vitality and why it can get away with hokey buzzers and spinning chairs.

Winner: Draw – who’s watching is what matters where advertisers are concerned and both are delivering a similar audience.

VIDEO: 'American Idol's' Kris Allen Talks New Album, Brand Loyalty, Fan Wars on 'Idol Hangover'

Song Choice:

It’s no secret that Idol executive producers and Great Britain natives Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick love their oldies but goodies, but when you average out release dates for songs performed on both shows, they’re separated by less than five years -- 1988 for Idol, 1992 for The Voice. Indeed, both shows (as well as X Factor) seem to carry a torch for 80s pop that these poor contestants just can’t shake, but with this week’s Idol’s being songs of the current decade (and The Voice taking on, you guessed it, the 80s), you can expect the pendulum to swing in Fox’s direction.

Winner: The Voice -- but only by a hair.

Finalists Age:

Perception is reality in this instance: The Voice’s contestants on average are older, which should come as no surprise when you factor in the Javier Colonsand Beverly McLellansof season 1 and consider that the show has no age limit. It’s part of the game, of course -- the voice is what matters, not the look or the years or the circumstance. On the Idol side, the show only recently dropped the audition age to 15, opening the door to last year’s winner Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina, but it cuts off auditioners at 28. Average out Idol’s Top 24 with The Voice’s and Idol comes in at a median age of 22 while The Voice contestants round out to 25.

Winner: Idol -- Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez … it’s a scene.

Winners’ Album Sales:

It’s no contest in this department. With 324 Billboard No. 1s, 50 million albums sold and 250 million songs downloaded on iTunes, Idol is hard to beat -- even with the more-than-occasional chart disappointment. Granted, the Fox show has a decade of branding behind it, and with both series partnered with Universal for music releases, it all ultimately contributes to the same bottom line. Still, when Idol season 10 winner Scotty McCreery sells 1 million albums four months after competing and The Voice’s season 1 winner Javier Colon barely moves 38,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan, it’s hard to argue that The Voice is having much impact in the music sphere. Here’s how Universal Republic’s Avery Lipman sees Colon’s debut: “We haven't gotten it right yet,” the label’s COO told THR. “It’s a brand new show and is probably going take a minute for us as a record company to figure it out. It’s a learning curve, too -- after 10 years of Idol, I'm not even going to try to defend that. But I think we learned a lot and we are going to work a lot smarter and a lot harder on the next season.”

Winner: Idol -- hands down.

VIDEO: 'The Voice's' Christina Milian Gives Advice to New Artists, Dishes on Next Album

Judges and Coaches Album Sales:

Here is where the numbers are truly astounding. As frontman of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler can lay claim to having sold some 100 million albums. Jennifer Lopez, on a worldwide scale, has moved in the vicinity of 50 million, while Randy Jackson boasts having worked on some 1,000 gold and platinum releases. The Voice also has a powerhouse seller in Christina Aguilera, who has herself surpassed the J Lo threshold of 50 million. Maroon 5 can proudly claim 10 million albums on their own while Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green (via his solo work and releases by Gnarls Barkley and Goodie Mob) each add another 3 million to The Voice sales tally. But when you consider ancillary projects like Lopez’s acting career or Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew series (currently in its 7th season on MTV) then Idol holds the advantage again. Ultimately, though, this is where age -- and with it, experience and credibility -- benefits Idol most, which can sting for a four-time Grammy winner like Aguilera.

Winner: Idol -- with age comes wisdom and bragging rights.  

Social Media:

The territory can get a little murky when it comes to the tech picture. Although Idol was ahead of its time when it came to introducing texting as a voting method, it has been notoriously slow to embrace social media, even going so far as to monitor contestants’ message in its early days of Facebook and Twitter integration. The show has come a long way since, and perhaps The Voice’s emphasis on social media has been partly responsible for bringing Idol up to speed, but when you look at the numbers plainly, Idol leads with more than 9 million followers and fans of the show compared to 2.8 million for The Voice. When it comes to active engagement, Idol asserts that it holds the advantage with an average of 69,000 comments per hour compared to The Voice’s 55,000 – that’s according to Bluefin Labs. But Trendrr’s stats have The Voice in the lead with 57,000 social mentions compared to Idol’s 50,000 (based on a two-hour block). Tipping the scale further to Idol’s favor are its own stars -- Jennifer Lopez with over 5 million Twitter followers and Ryan Seacrest with nearly 6.5 million. Adam Levine also tallies an impressive number with over 2 million followers but still has a ways to go. And once you throw an alum like Adam Lambert into the mix, Idol again has an edge.

Winner: Idol -- its stars are trending big time.

Bottom line: if you compare Idol in its second season to The Voice, the stories are dramatically different -- season 2 of Idol, which pitted Clay Aiken against Ruben Studdard in its finale, produced a show that was still growing, The Voice made a nice showing, but looks to be shrinking. Is interest in the coaches slagging each other waning or is it the talent taking the stage?   

In truth, with Idol going on nine consecutive seasons as the No. 1 show averaging 20.2 million viewers, who knows when or whether another show will firmly knock it from its throne. One thing is for sure, however, that 20-plus percent decline could be attributable to The Voice (and X Factor to a large extent) cannibalizing Idol's audience, which may just be the biggest threat to Fox yet -- if the NBC show can hang in long enough to make a difference.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin

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