X Marks the spot

December 15th, 2008 by Jon Clements


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?  

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

7 Responses to “X Marks the spot”

  1. Guy Clapperton Says:

    Surely the idea of fragmented programming or people migrating to the web en masse has been debunked time and time again by the resurgence of Saturday evening viewing? Doctor Who, Merlin, Strictly, X-Factor – only a few years ago ITV execs were saying those days had vanished permanently. Well guys, they haven’t.

  2. Jon Says:

    Guy – I agree with you, but some – notably Ajesh Patalay in yesterday’s Observer – are posing the question not “if”, but “when” web programmes will “rival TV in ratings and quality”. A response to his musing on long how until we get the first “Sopranos of the web” has to be that we’re still nowhere near.

  3. Rob Brown Says:

    TV is really limited in my opinion – you have to watch it when the programme maker wants you to. “Event televsion” like the X-Factor is a rearguard action creating the illusion that something needs to be watched in real time.

    Nine of the top ten TV programme of all time were broadcast in a ten years period between 1976 and 1986 (the 10th in 1994). We are moving to the web as the home of video content and the broadcasters know it – the BBC iPlayer has had over 237m video views in less than a year of operation.

  4. Neil MacLean Says:

    For some bizarre reason three of us (including small son) were huddled round my desk watching Sport Personality online last night when there was a perfectly good TV next door. Personally I enjoyed the Twitter banter which kept appearing on the heads-up display on the monitor. Now, if you could do that with a smart TV I’d go back to the couch.
    Oh and agreed about the musical content of X Factor – that’s why I just joined the Make Jeff Buckley Number One for Xmas facebook group and downloaded his version of Hallelujah (even though I think I’ve already got it somewhere).

  5. Jon Says:

    When the Internet produces the equivalent of the Christmas edition of the Radio Times, then we can safely say that TV is finished. Until then, see you all on the couch with the remote control.

  6. Roger, Online PR Agency, C&M Says:

    I’m not so sure ‘latop or living room’ is the right discussion. A bunch of electronics firms like Panasonic are introducing TV’s with ethernet ports that’ll plug straight into a broadband router… with simple browsers. The device isn’t really that important anymore… and even the source of the programming becomes irrelevant if you have a simple, singular interface to access IRV, BBC, Sky and YouTube from…. I guess the important thing to note is that the death of TV has been greatly exaggerated… we’ll just continue to enjoy it in different ways (maybe with a spot of twitter on the side)

  7. Jon Clements Says:

    Roger – are you available to do house-wide TV wire-ups? I like documentaries, the other half likes Katie and Peter and it just doesn’t work.
    So much for the shared TV experience!

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