The LA Times is reporting that last night's Lost season five premiere was the worst in the show's history. According to a Nielson ratings report for January 21st, in the category of "adults ages 18 to 49, Lost averaged a 5.0 rating, its worst season opener ever and down a big 26% compared with last year." The ABC series started off its 3 hour long season premiere averaging about "11.4 total viewers" and began to lose viewers consistently every half-hour the show was on.
Fox's American Idol won the night with "25.4 million total viewers (9.6/25 [share] in adults 18 to 49)." However, that episode was only an hour long and only directly competed with Lost's review episode. The new Tim Roth series Lie To Me, which aired opposite a new episode of Lost, debuted on Fox after the widely popular talent competition show. Lie To Me beat Lost in "head-to-head competition with about 13.2 million viewers" and won the important 18 to 49 demographic with which Lost has traditionally had the most appeal.
The Lost producers' decision to thrust the survivors of flight 815 into a time warp the size of North Dakota may have been the main reason the show lost viewers throughout its lengthy season premiere. The castaways are thrust forward and backward in time during the entire show. Not to mention that fans also have to keep straight that the plotline involving the Oceanic 6 is occurring 3 years in the future.
Another potential reason for the show's ratings decline may have been how long last night's opener was. One fan commented on the LA Times piece that "out of that two hours, certainly at least 60 minutes was commercial time." The fan, identified only as TK, also commented that he will " be DVR watching [sic] from now on." Many fans DVR Lost and enjoy watching it without commercial interruption. (This article's writer is one of them.) Nielson currently does not issue ratings for DVR viewing, so the ratings for Lost last night may have appeared smaller than they really were. TiVO and other individual DVR companies maintain their own ratings, which may shed some light onto the question at hand, but these ratings are not reflected in the Nielson numbers. However, it's also quite possible that despite that fact, American Idol and Lie To Me still would have won last night's ratings war because of viewers DVRing those shows as well.
Loyal Lost fans shouldn't fret that the show will be canceled due to its poor showing. In Damon Lindelof's interview earlier this week with The Star-Ledger, he wrote "ABC's certainly not going to cancel it, but depending on how viewers react to this season's arc, Cuse and Lindelof may wind up running a cult show, after all." Cult Shows don't tend to stick around on the airwaves with low ratings. The reason ABC may decide not to cancel Lost probably has something to do with its creators' promise to have the series wrapped up sometime in May, 2010. So, until the series finale next May, fans of the show may want to read up on Hawking's A Brief History of Time in order to not get Lost any further.