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Despite decline, 'Idol' still rules US TV

"AMERICAN Idol" reaches its climax this week, still ruling the roost on American television after eight seasons, but the battle of the singers faces declining audiences and limits to its viewer-driven format.

The finale showdown tomorrow pits musical theater star Adam Lambert, whom Entertainment Weekly magazine called "the most exciting 'American Idol' contestant in years," against college student Kris Allen, a favorite among teenage girls.

What started as a cheesy summer show in 2002 has mushroomed into a cultural phenomenon and an estimated US$1 billion-plus brand spanning everything from ice-cream and trading cards to an attraction at Walt Disney World Resort.

"Idol" has partnerships with phone company AT&T for fan voting, with iTunes for contestant song downloads, and record company RCA and its sister labels, where Kelly Clarkson and other past winners have cut albums.

But clouds are gathering on the horizon.

Co-producer 19 Entertainment reported its revenue from "American Idol" declined US$4.1 million to US$24.7 million in the first quarter this year compared to the same period in 2008, as the recession dented sponsorship deals.

The show has also had a 7-percent viewership drop this season on the Fox network.

Fox officials believe the show has a winning formula that could still rule US TV for years, even if viewership declines substantially below the current 26.3 million viewers an episode. It is the most-watched TV show in the US.


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