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American Idol Demonstrates Power of the On-Demand Consumer

I am addicted to American Idol. There, I said it.

Now that I have confessed, let me explain why I am hooked on this show. It is a great example of what I call the new "On-Demand Consumer" in action.

Every year (every season), millions of consumers vote for their favourite product (the singer), the one they want to be manufactured (their album produced and released by a major music label).

And how do these On-Demand Consumers vote? By calling a toll-free number or sending a text message from their mobile phone. It’s a simple – yet utterly brilliant – model. And it is being replicated all around the world with Canadian Idol, Australian Idol, Latin American Idol, etc.

Last week I was giving a talk on the On-Demand Consumer and I was asked what percentage of American Idol voting was done via SMS (text messaging). I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I did get one later.

According to figures released by Telescope, the company that handles the voting for American Idol, a combined total of 580 million toll-free and SMS votes were placed during Season 5 (2006).

Cingular, the telco partner of Telescope for the American Idol voting, claims that 64.5 million text message votes were received for that season.

When you crunch the numbers, that means that 11.12% of voting was done via SMS.

I don’t know why I thought this number would be higher, but I did. Then I realized that not only is 64.5 million an enormous number, but each and every one of those 64.5 million votes was paid for by the voter.

That’s right.

Millions of Americans, mostly teenage girls (right?), were so motivated by the On-Demand nature of this show that they were willing to pay 5-10 cents per vote to help influence the ‘design’ of a product. A product they would then be willing to fork over more money – a lot more money – to buy when it was released a few months later.

Take, for instance, the first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson. Her debut album debuted at number one on the Billboard chart and went on to sell over 2.5 million copies in the United States.

With all due respect to Ms. Clarkson’s talent as a singer, it’s no surprise her first album was a bestseller. Those millions of On-Demand Consumers were getting precisely the product they had voted for.

Welcome to the world of the On-Demand Consumer.