Monday, October 31, 2011

Has the tide turned for X Factor?

Here's my column which appeared in Broadcast, 23rd October:

It’s been nearly three years since I last wrote this column – so what’s changed? Viewed from here in Alderley Edge, the most important development is BBC North at MediaCityUK, currently powering up and sending a surge of energy through the North’s production sector.
Unexpectedly, BBC3 is also moving north, a broadcast channel to add to the big programme brands. The sheer scale of MediaCityUK, the new talent and demographic of BBC3, the innovation of Future Media – talent, teens, technology – should all help the BBC address its traditional deficit in terms of ‘portrayal’ of the North, particularly with younger viewers.
It is some task, because in primetime, ITV ‘owns’ the North – look at the top programmes, starting withCoronation Street in fifth place, with 9.3 million viewers, and then in 8th, 9th, 13th and 15th, followed by six entries for Emmerdale, the highest at 7.5 million. That’s a lot of drama from the North.
In terms of impact, a new high-profile drama or long-running serial could move the dial for the BBC. WithSpooks ending on 5.1 million/18% on Sunday on BBC1, there’s certainly room for one. And consider how quickly Downton Abbey engaged the audience, with 9.3 million this week, holding steady week on week despite the slippage from X Factor Results. However, although fictionally it’s a northern drama – located in Yorkshire – we all know that it’s actually made in Posh-shire.
And so to the big question: has the tide turned for The X Factor? The papers are comparing it with last year and gleefully searching for the missing 2 million viewers, compared to last year. Week on week, the case is harder to stand up as the slippage is less dramatic – Sunday night’s results show slipped back to 11.3 million/40% share, down from last week’s 11.6 million/42%. Saturday night’s ‘rock theme’ show had 10.1 million/39% share, compared with 10 million/40% last week. If it is short of its all-time high, it’s not exactly on its uppers.
But there is a problem. The capricious judges’ cull on the first live show was a ‘twist’ too far. The X Factor belongs to its audience – they decide who the winner will be – so what was the point of the judges usurping the viewers and slinging out that young girl from Middlesbrough?
That’s when the doubts started. Since then, some acts have been dull, others have sung badly and it feels like every other minute there’s a sponsored competition or commercial break. This week, sensing trouble, the PR was cranked up – Frankie was in the papers, the judges fell out over the definition of ‘rock’, there was talk of bullying contestants, Kelly walked out. Expect more of this. It’s still must-see TV, even if Strictly is giving X Factor more of a run, with 9.6 million/38% share, slightly up on last week.
At the start of the autumn ‘new judges’ season, it seemed ITV had all the answers (apart from That Sunday Night Show, obviously) and it promo-ed a promising series of travelogues. But Billy Connolly’s Route 66 was a bit pedestrian and although Joanna Lumley is always great value, her Greek Odyssey has too much economic bad news for a feel-good doc; this week’s 3.7 million/16% share was in the same numbers territory as ITV’s The Jonathan Ross Show on 3.7 million/18% share. Dare we say it – has ITV gone a bit too BBC1-ish with these shows?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Dragon's Den - a voice from the North?

Sunday 31st July 2011 Attentional's Screenwatch blog
Dragon's Den returned with 4 million on Sunday night - up from the previous season, as it benefitted from an extensive promo for the new, fifth dragon - Hilary Devey, a self-made millionaie who's only false career steps seems to have been missing out on a role in Corrie. The new addition to the show is a shrewd move but the best thing that could have happened to Dragon's Den is to emerge into an August without Big Brother. There was a time, in the previous century actually, when August was not owned by Big Brother - and now that time is back again. I can remember quite clearly how suddenly and dramatically Big Brother seized the summer schedules - it was early in my days writing a Reevells Ratings column for Broadcast, and the possibility of writing about the same show week after week as it blast away the opposition was pretty exciting.

No such drama for Dragon's Den, although it has garnered plenty of publicity and reviews, and a decent audience, for BBC2. One of the curious things about it is that although it is produced from Manchester, and has cast its newest Dragon from the North, the programme is made outside of the region. Would Dragon's Den from Manchester be any different? After all it is a format, not a location. Would it be weakened if it seemed to be set in Manchester, in the same way that The Apprentice takes its visual cues from London? Not a question which is likely to bother the commissioners at the BBC. Which is a shame really.