"The X Factor" U.S. is on death watch, as the show's ratings hit an all-time low. On Oct. 29, 2013, the show's first live episode of the year had only 4.76 million U.S. viewers, according to the Nielsen Company. On Oct. 31, 2013, a clip/recap show about the Top 12 contestants (with some previously unaired footage) had even more pathetic ratings: 3.25 million U.S. viewers. The ratings for the "Meet the Final 12" episode on Oct. 31 resulted in "The X Factor" in 15th place out of the 18 U.S. prime-time network shows that night.
Before this nadir in ratings happened, "The X Factor" U.S. was averaging 6.5 million U.S. viewers per episode for the show's third season in 2013.
It would be easy to blame this alarming decrease in ratings on the fact that "The X Factor" U.S. was on a two-week hiatus in mid-October 2013, because of Fox's telecasts of Major League Baseball games, including the World Series. But the fact is that even if "The X Factor" lost some momentum due to this hiatus, if audiences really want to watch a show, then a two-week hiatus is not going to drive them away. In fact, a hiatus might make viewers anticipate the show's return even more, which results in even higher ratings, but that only for works for shows that are beloved by a critical mass of the viewing population. That certainly does not describe "The X Factor" in America.
In "The X Factor" U.S.'s first season in 2011, the show's average ratings were 12 million U.S. viewers per episode. In "The X Factor" U.S.'s second season in 2011, the show's average ratings dropped to 9 million U.S. viewers per episode.
In other words, the show's ratings have gone from mediocre to bad to worse.
If you want to know why "The X Factor" U.S. has lost millions of viewers, the answer is simple: The show's decision makers have made too many horribly dumb mistakes, including hiring alienating, unlikable "personalities" (such as robotic Britney Spears as a judge, unprofessional Khloe Kardashian as a host and ditzy Paulina Rubio as a judge) and being unable to keep the same judging panel for two years in a row. It just shows how out of touch Simon Cowell and company are with what viewers want in a TV talent show.
Consider what Cowell said when he was asked about "The X Factor" U.S.'s declining ratings in an October 2013 interview with Parade magazine. Cowell's reply was: "It just makes you work harder. There are way too many talent shows on TV, and they all start to look the same, which is why we’ve made distinct changes, like the new Four Chair Challenge round. The only way you get out of a rut is to make the show better."
If Cowell is really paying attention, then he would know that the majority of "X Factor" viewers hated the Four-Chair Challenge, which was set up in a way to make some of the contestants think they had made it to the Top 16 but then they were replaced by other contestants if the deciding judge changed his or her mind. In addition, most of the contestants were reduced to pathetically begging not to be eliminated. You don't see this type of contestant humiliation on "The Voice," which is why "The Voice" is pummeling "The X Factor" in the ratings in America.
Most "X Factor" viewers think the Four-Chair Challenge made the show worse, not better. And if Cowell thinks that the Four-Chair Challenge was an improvement to "The X Factor," then it just shows how clueless he is about what "X Factor" viewers really want.
And there's also the problem of "The X Factor" U.S. contestants in 2013 being considered by many viewers to be much less talented than contestants on "The Voice" or "American Idol."
In "The X Factor" U.S. audition episodes in 2013, Cowell and the other judges (Rubio, Demi Lovato and Kelly Rowland) were very over-the-top in praising mediocre contestants who were ultimately dumped by the judges. Viewers know that calling too many contestants a "star" after seeing just one audition just doesn't ring true after a while. It's overblown hype. The judges know it, the viewers know it, and that's why people got sick of it and millions of viewers tuned out of "The X Factor" even more.
You'll notice that anytime you see a press release or news story hyping that "The X Factor" has found more international stars than any other talent show in the world, they're only talking about the accomplishments of the contestants who made it big from the British version of "The X Factor." The contestants from "The X Factor" U.S. who are signed to Sony Music haven't even gone gold or platinum in their own country.
Even when "The X Factor" U.S. tried to make up for past mistakes, by firing Kardashian and keeping Mario Lopez as a host, that kind of "too little too late" damage control hasn't been enough to increase the show's ratings. Although experienced TV host Lopez doesn't get as many complaints from "X Factor" viewers as Kardashian did, his hosting is so slick and humorless that it ultimately becomes generic and somewhat forgettable. Lopez is not the main reason for the show's extreme decline, but he certainly isn't helping ratings either.
"The X Factor" U.S. attempted to be an edgier alternative to "American Idol," but now it's just a sad, confused mess that continues to alienate millions of viewers. Fox won't make an official announcement about the fate of "The X Factor" U.S. until probably May 2014. Until then, the show is dying a prolonged and painful death, and it's better off being put out of its misery once and for all.