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'The X Factor' U.S. 2013 finale is lowest-rated so far; the show's fate debated

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The third season of "The X Factor" U.S. was the lowest-rated so far, so it's no surprise that the third season finale was also the lowest-rated finale in "X Factor" U.S. history. In the episode (which aired on Dec. 19, 2013), boyfriend/girlfriend duo Alex & Sierra were named as the winners. Rock singer Jeff Gutt came in second place. Latin pop singer Carlito Olivero came in third place.) On Dec. 20, 2013, the Nielsen Company released the ratings for the previous night's prime-time network shows. "The X Factor" U.S. Season 3 finale had only 6.22 million U.S. viewers. (By contrast, "The X Factor" U.S. season finale in 2011 had 12.5 million U.S. viewers. "The X Factor" U.S. season finale in 2012 had 9.66 million U.S. viewers.)

The Season 3 finale episode finished in fourth place in its time slot (8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST/PST) and fourth place overall among the 12 U.S. prime-time network shows that aired that night. Most the shows on the other networks were reruns that night. The ratings for "The X Factor" were so bad that the episode was beaten by a rerun of ABC's "A Charlie Brown Christmas." If "The X Factor" had to compete against mostly new episodes on the other networks, then ratings for the Season 3 finale would have been lower.

So what does this mean for the future of "The X Factor" U.S.?

Fox has not yet announced the fate of "The X Factor" U.S., but in a December 2013 conference call with journalists, "X Factor" creator Simon Cowell said he is confident that the show will be renewed for a fourth season in 2014, but he wants the show to have big changes, including an all-new judging panel. He declined to elaborate on the changes he had in mind.

In the conference call, Cowell said he will have a "different role" on "The X Factor" U.S. if the show is renewed in 2014. Fox probably will wait until May 2014 to officially announce the fate of "The X Factor" U.S.

Insiders have already said that Cowell plans to return to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2014, to fill the spot vacated by Gary Barlow, who replaced Cowell in 2011.

Demi Lovato (who became a judge on "The X Factor" U.S. in 2012) has officially confirmed her departure from the show after People.com reported that she is quitting the show to focus on her music career.

Rowland has told the media that she doesn't know yet if she will return to "The X Factor" U.S. in 2014, but she would remain a judge on the show if she's asked.

Rubio has not yet commented on her future with "The X Factor," but it's highly unlikely that she will continue being on the show because she was very unpopular with most "X Factor" viewers, who hated her ditsy behavior and inarticulate comments. Rowland and Rubio became judges on "The X Factor" U.S. in 2013, but it sounds like Cowell doesn't want them back on the show.

Ratings and critics' reviews for "The X Factor" U.S. hit an all-time low in 2013. According to the Nielsen Company, the show averaged 6 million U.S. viewers per episode in 2013. That's a big drop from the show's ratings of 9 million U.S. viewers per episode in 2012 and 12 million U.S. viewers per episode in 2011.

If Cowell leaves the show's judging panel or has reduced air time on the show in 2014, then it would be foolish to think that this change would increase ratings. Millions of people have already stopped watching "The X Factor" U.S., which in its last few weeks of Season 3 sunk into the lower half of the ratings for U.S. prime-time shows. If Fox thinks that the show is worth saving, the network better be prepared for "The X Factor" U.S. to get even lower ratings in 2014.

Although many TV critics and viewers have been saying "The X Factor" U.S. is awful and should be cancelled, Fox might still renew the show because despite the low ratings, "The X Factor" still has more viewers than many other Fox shows (such as "Glee") that are on the prime-time network schedule for the 2014-2015 TV season. The question is: Is "The X Factor" (which has been called the most expensive reality show in U.S. TV history) making enough money for Fox to justify renewing the show for a fourth season in 2014?

Zap 2 It (a website that covers the TV industry) has this prediction from writer Tom Shaw: "I still think the show comes back next year. Fox could replace it with three hours of other reality programming, but it would be tough – they’d either have to skip the summer edition of 'So You Think You Can Dance' or go with back-to-back seasons, AND air multiple Gordon Ramsey hours in the Fall. The more likely outcome is that 'The X Factor' comes back, but at a reduced number of hours per week. So why haven’t we heard from Fox? That’s because the real x-factor in Fox’s 14/15 schedule is… 'American Idol.'

"If AI does poorly, then Fox might shrink both shows down to 1.5 – 2 hours a week. If AI does disastrously, then Fox might scrap both shows. If AI does well, then who knows. At this point, I think American Idol does well enough that both singing competitions come back for ~2 hours next season, leaving one extra hour open compared to this season (probably for a drama)."

The Hollywood Reporter offers this viewpoint from Jonathan Bernstein, who says Alex & Sierra were among the few highlights of the show in 2013: "Despite fanciful notions of a season four reboot, Cowell and his team are never going to get the American 'X Factor' right. They’re Super Glued to the format’s success in other territories where it’s a camp circus aimed squarely at grandmas and over-stimulated tweens. But he should derive some small consolation – beyond his many hundreds of millions of dollars – that his show, whether it clings to life or dies with dignity, just produced a winning act that will easily outshine the competition."

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