Australian Idol finished its 2005 season with a fade to grey last night. It may have topped the ratings and given Ten a win on the night but the 1.885 million people who watched the final verdict was down 46% on the 3.34 million who tuned in for the event last year.

And the 1.450 million who watched the final lead-up bit to the verdict was down on the 1.55 million who watched the night before, and down a massive 1.39 million, or 49% on the 2.84 million in 2004.

These figures mean that Idol this year didn’t crack the two million mark for any episode – there were 11 two million plus audiences in 2004. Ten, however, still liked the figures because it gave the Network a rare win in the “all people on the night” category and of course, victory in its key 16 to 39 age group. But Idol is no longer “big.” It’s lost its X factor and desperately needs a kick start next year by Ten and its format owners. But will that happen?

There’s a looming dispute in the US over American Idol, which is on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network. Simon Cowell is the key figure in the US program and his fight with Fox could result in him walking out and starting X-Factor in the US. He and Idol founder, Simon Fuller, are fighting in the British courts over X-Factor, with Fuller accusing Cowell of copyright infringement in developing the competing talent show.

X-Factor is the most popular program on British TV, which has given Cowell an enormous negotiating stick over Fox. But even if he was to leave and start X-Factor for another US network, Seven and Nine, having seen the disaster it was for Ten, would be loath to have another go. Or would they? If Cowell was involved in the Australian production, they might be tempted to run it against Idol on Ten next year.

The 16 to 39 age group, Ten’s target audience, gave the network an expensive lesson in loyalty this year. They killed off X-Factor because it was too much like Idol, and then stayed away from Idol because it was no longer fresh. Last night’s final seemed, like many episodes this year, empty and devoid of the drama there was at times in 2003 and 2004. That’s what Ten has to address.

Gen X and Gen Y viewers are not the sheep many in TV make them out to be. Just ask Ten.