American Idol made its triumphant return to the small screen (albeit to a different network) earlier in 2018, and there haven't been too many shocking differences between the original on Fox and the reboot on ABC. Even the host remained the same! Soon, however, ABC's American Idol will do something brand new that could change the game for all reality-competition series on the small screen. Episodes of American Idol will air simultaneously in all time zones to enable votes from the entire country to be cast, counted, and revealed sooner than was possible before.
For a long time, installments of American Idol would hit the airwaves first for folks in the Eastern Time Zone, which was great for fans living in ET. For fans on the West Coast, however, there was no choice but to wait three hours for the installment to air in the Pacific Time Zone. While viewers in ET were already voting on what they saw in the American Idol performances, viewers in PT were still waiting to see the performances. That will no longer be the case. For the first time in the history of television in the U.S., a reality-competition series will simulcast to allow viewers in all American time zones to watch and vote at the same time.
Viewers will have three options for voting: via text message, via AmericanIdol.com/vote, and via the American Idol app. The results of the votes will be revealed in real time at the end of each episode, taking votes from all time zones into account and delivering results more quickly than ever before. The simulcasts across all time zones will air over a three-week span, which kicks off on Sunday, April 29 at 8 p.m. ET or 5 p.m. PT. Simulcasting could be quite welcome to fans west of ET who are tired of waiting to watch and to vote.
That said, some fans might not be thrilled that they'll have to tune in so much earlier. Primetime in ET is still only late afternoon/early evening in time zones further to the west. If American Idol fans based in areas outside of ET want to take part in the American Idol experience, they'll have to sit down to watch a lot earlier than usual. It should be interesting to see whether or not simulcasting will be a hit for American Idol.
Of course, American Idol isn't the only show that traditionally aired live in ET to give simulcast a shot. Saturday Night Live began simulcasting during Season 42. That said, there are key differences between simultaneous airings of SNL and American Idol. Episodes of Saturday Night Live air at 11:30 p.m. ET, meaning they air at 8:30 p.m. PT, which is in primetime. 5 p.m. is not.
It's difficult to predict exactly how the simulcast will impact the ratings. American Idol hasn't exactly been killing in either viewership or overall demographic, but it's been doing well enough. The simulcast could increase the appeal for viewers in non-ET time zones to tune in; alternately, viewers who can watch the 8 p.m. broadcast may not be able to tune in earlier. We'll have to wait and see.