So, it’s over for another year. And what will a reputed 15 million TV viewers do on a Saturday night now the latest X Factor has been won?
In a supposedly Internet age, when commercial broadcasters are running scared from the all-powerful web, and an era of fragmented television, the viewing figures for the X Factor are staggering. Not that they are remotely close to the legendary audiences for Morecambe and Wise (28 million for the 1977 Christmas special, bless ’em) or those for the 1970s Generation Game, but it’s still good going.
And despite the voice and indisputable talent of X Factor winner, Alexandra Burke, the programme isn’t remotely about music. The other acts that paraded the stage with the winner on Saturday night were crushingly average, despite the encouragement from the judges. If you want pop music, then watch Jools Holland’s Later or the BBC’s Electric Proms; the X Factor is a national shared experience about the drama of dreams coming true, or being dashed at the whim of Simon Cowell – not music.
Strictly Come Dancing has achieved similar mass appeal reinventing a very tired format from the annals of television history (when the requisite “glamour” was provided by newsreader, Angela Rippon) with a healthy dose of celebrity sex appeal, fabulous costumes and a “behind the scenes” look at the acts being human.
Meanwhile, Internet only programmes are supposedly coming of age, attracting audiences of up to a million. But the difference with online content (BBC iPlayer aside) is that the audience is viewing it when it wants, not necessarily in a simultaneous expression of telly togetherness. With a million online views at best against X-Factor’s 15, Saturday nights seem – for now – safe for broadcasters. But how far away are we from families huddling around a screen watching the Internet?