Virtual 'Idol'

Text messaging, live voting results and a multilayered Web site help fans get their 'Idol' fix 24/7

While the other broadcast networks look with envy at the iron grip Fox's "American Idol" has on audiences, the show's creators have ensured that its reach goes well beyond its successful primetime slot -- all in the name of extending the brand and feeding its insatiable viewers.

"When it comes to keeping fans connected, there's just a hunger for anything 'American Idol,'" admits Jeff King, vp Fox Interactive Media who also serves as editor in chief at

Following is a look at how far "Idol's" reach really is:

  To continue to accommodate online users, last month, online video game company signed a multiyear license for a browser-based game that will be available through, and Featuring licensed songs from the show, the game's premise is to re-create the experience of going before the "Idol" jury.

  Viewers cast a total of 570 million votes for all of the Season 5 contestants, according to Telescope, the company that counts the phone and text-message votes.

  With 65 million text messages sent during Season 3's final episode, and a participation rate of more than 40% of Cingular customers using the provider to text their votes, it's no wonder that FremantleMedia director of interactive Jason Turner says "Idol" is behind the popularity of text messaging.

  In March 2006, drew its highest number of unique visitors, with 6.2 million staying at the site for an average of 12.5 minutes; in January, the numbers spiked again to 2.1 million unique visitors, each of whom stayed at the site for 5 minutes. But numbers tend to only stay high as long as the show is on the air; without the broadcast, visitor numbers tend to dip below the ability of Nielsen//NetRatings to measure them.

  This year, the mobile application has been embedded deeper into the show with a cross-carrier SMS competition, where fans can win cash, a visit to a music video shoot and a trip to the show's finale. Additionally, with more-advanced applications and 3G-enabled phones, subscribers are adding video performances from contestants to the more traditional wireless downloads of ringtones and wallpapers.

  The show also is working to integrate the online and on-air elements as seamlessly as possible. Down the road, the Web site will allow fans to provide questions for host Ryan Seacrest to ask on the air, plus give them a chance to win show tickets. "We're incorporating anything that gets people to do things online that has a payoff on air," King explains.

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