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American Idol's TV Success Is A Good Example of Rampant Copycatting In The Entertainment Industry Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 September 2002
There is no question that the Fox TV program "American Idol" is the latest smash hit. Featuring a talent-show format with live performances and "The Weakest Link"-style rude judging, the show captured the attention of advertisers, along with millions of TV viewers, despite the worst advertising recession in modern media history. But the show’s success is emblematic of larger problems in the consolidated entertainment business.

The concept for "American Idol" is nothing new. "The Gong Show" in the 1970s was similar in format, as was "Star Search" in the 1980s. All were somewhat entertaining and certainly commercially successful, but what is disturbing about the current situation is that other networks are rushing to produce copycat TV shows to compete with "Idol." CBS is giving new life to "Star Search," TNT has a show in the works, and NBC is rumored to have a talent show coming, too. They are all trying to strike while someone else’s iron is hot, which is a definite strategy, but it defeats the essence of what makes "Idol" great – its content. Soon there will be talent shows all over TV, which will dilute "Idol’s: appeal, just as all of the other reality shows diluted the impact of CBS’ "Survivor."

The record industry is perhaps even guiltier than TV when it comes to copycatting. When a completely manufactured artist like Britney Spears hits the charts, other labels jump on the bandwagon and, voila, you have Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore and so many others. When the Backstreet Boys made it big with their pre-packaged pop, O-Town, N’Sync, 98 Degrees and the rest were soon to follow. Is nothing ever new?

The entertainment industry is based on and has been built by the entrepreneurial sprit. Now that the music business is so consolidated, we find that the entrepreneurial spirit is missing, having been replaced by bankers and MBAs that are more interested in profit than in the quality of their product.

The movie and the video gaming industries understand the importance of good content and reap the rewards quarter after quarter – despite a prolonged U.S. economic recession and despite 9-11. Why? Their content is consistently good, so consumers are willing to line up to spend their discretionary income on movie tickets, DVDs and video games. People will start to get back into music again perhaps when the music industry starts to swing back towards its entrepreneurial roots with smaller labels releasing great music in new and exciting genres. With new distribution venues like Amazon.com and new high-resolution audio formats like DVD-Audio or SACD, you could have new reasons to buy new music. With HDTV gaining what could be unstoppable momentum, there are opportunities for TV producers to create programming that is more film-like than ever. HBO has been very successful with shows like "The Sopranos" (which is even better in HDTV) and "Six Feet Under." Other networks may choose to use new technologies as inspiration for exciting new content. In the end, the swing back to more entrepreneurial programming will be what gives birth to the next golden age of music, TV and movies.

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