IDOL TOPS BUT DOWN

American Idol continued to dominate the ratings Wednesday night as the "results" episode drew 22.50 million viewers, according to Nielsen overnight figures. Nevertheless, the figure represented a significant softening from a year ago, when it drew 28.32 million viewers. Although earlier episodes of the show had likewise shown ratings erosion, the 21-percent drop Wednesday could represent a challenge to Fox's sales staff, especially if advertisers had been guaranteed specific ratings levels. The show faced only token opposition, as all of CBS's lineup -- its most significant challenger -- were reruns.

ANOTHER ONLINE VIDEO SERVICE TO DEBUT

ZillionTV, a new online TV service, said it had reached deals with five major studios to provide free on-demand access to 15,000 titles by the end of the year. The studios are Disney, NBC Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Sony -- all of which hold individual stakes in the company. The service, which will require use of a settop box to access the content, also awaits deals with broadband service providers, something that could represent a hitch if the providers determine that the service conflicts with their own video-on-demand services. The company offered few details about the service.

LOCAL NEWS SHOWS SOAR ON BAD ECONOMIC NEWS

Despite the fact that the newsrooms of local TV stations have been trimmed all over the country in recent months, ratings of local newscasts have soared. Broadcast & Cable magazine and Nielsen Media Research have published a ratings report comparing early-evening newscasts in 56 cities during November. Showing the greatest improvement was WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington DC owned by Allbritton Communications, whose "News at 6" improved 42 percent from November of 2007. Jacksonville, FL's WTLV's 5:00 p.m. newscast improved 32 percent. And Indianapolis's WISH's 5:00 p.m. newscast was up 27 percent.

GLEE INTERRUPTED

Fox is taking the unusual route of previewing its upcoming musical-comedy series Glee following the season finale of American Idol on May 19 but holding back the remaining episodes until fall. According to TVWeek, the strategy has surprised many industry observers who expected the show, which has received strong buzz, to take over Idol's timeslot when the talent contest concluded. "Fox officials were bowled over by episode one of the show," the trade publication observed, "and a January screening of the pilot to critics generated strong positive reaction." It quoted an executive from a rival studio as calling the pilot "amazing." Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told TVWeek that televising the first episode after the Idol closer will "jump-start the positive buzz, which will spread over the summer and into the show's launch in the fall."

HDTV SETS RISE

The average price of an HDTV set jumped more than 10 percent in February, according to a survey by the Retrevo CE Index, which follows trends in consumer electronics. Retrevo noted that until last month's rise, prices of HDTV sets had been falling since last May. Vipin Jain, CEO of Retrevo, said in a statement that the rise could be attributed to the fact that many retailers had been offering steep discounts over the holidays and that they had to compete with Circuit City's liquidation sales in January. "Excess inventory is clearing out of the channel and merchants are returning to running their business at more sustainable price levels," Jain said.

CNNMONEY.COM TO OFFER EIGHT NEW PROGRAMS

CNNMoney.com, which has become in just a year the most-popular source of business-news video on the web, is increasing its online "programs" (generally two-three minutes long), the Wall Street Journal reported today (Thursday). The website is debuting eight new online business shows today. The newspaper noted that websites featuring video have attracted big buys from advertisers, with spending rising to $850 million this year, up 45 percent from a year ago.