ITV have ruled weekend television for the last decade, since the launch of globally successful Pop Idol in 2001 which received little competition from the BBC’s easily forgettable Fame Academy.
In recent years, BBC have begun to catch up in the battle for ratings with Strictly Come Dancing’s peak audience of 11.3 million in October 2011, beating ITV’s The X Factor’s peak of 10.1 million viewers. The takeover in ratings was put down to viewers becoming increasingly frustrated with the long and frequent adverts from ITV and the absence of Simon Cowell from The X Factor judging panel. However, with the return of music mogul Cowell to the already established Britain’s Got Talent, head-to-head in the fight for the public’s attention with brand new offering The Voice from the BBC, critics were understandably predicting a clear victory for ITV.
The Voice differs from the archetypal talent show as the auditionees are all scouted for the show and are therefore vocally able, plus the judges have their backs to the stage during the ‘blind auditions’ process. The emphasis is on vocal ability as the judges are unaware of the person’s age, appearance or background until the audition is over. Although this rids the programme of the gimmicks and sob stories frequented on Britain’s Got Talent, the decision to omit comically poor acts was a risky one from the BBC – surely everybody loves a bit of car crash TV?
It seems that the risk has undoubtedly paid off and that the BBC have got the balance just right. The absence of bad acts is rarely felt, as the high standard of talent makes the show a lot less predictable. Some shocking outcomes make for gripping viewing, as it becomes clear that being good is simply not good enough. Many viewers were left reeling after expectant dad Daniel Walker’s rendition of ‘A Kiss from a Rose’ in the final set of auditions failed to secure him a place in the battle stage of the programme. The judges can choose just ten acts each and once their teams are full, they are unable to press their buttons in order to turn their chair towards the stage and offer themselves as the auditioning act’s mentor. Will-i-am was the last judge to fill his team, ignoring the opinions of the other judges as he repeatedly failed to turn his chair around. This meant he had to take on Jazz, the last auditionee, who was luckily good enough to bring tears to the judges’ eyes. This frustrating yet compelling aspect of the show sets it apart from its ITV rival, which due to its uncapped number of advancing auditionees, sees some under-par acts proceeding to the next round.
The success of The Voice can also be attributed to the all-star judging line-up. Whilst the Britain’s Got Talent judges are all tried and tested favourites in front of the camera, the musical success of The Voice’s panel goes a long way in making up for their inexperience with TV. With over 140 million album sales between them, will.i.am, Jessie J, Danny O’Donoghue and legendary Tom Jones know a thing or two about making a hit record, and can identify with their contestants. Compared with superficial guest judge on BGT, Carmen Electra of Baywatch fame, who is able to offer very limited feedback when judging an opera singer, it is easy to see why viewers are drawn to the credibility of The Voice rather than the exhibitionism of Britain’s Got Talent.
Although the Saturday night ratings battle isn’t quite over, with the end of the audition stages resulting in a change of format for both shows, it is hardly surprising that the UK audience have instantly warmed to new offering The Voice rather than tuning in to the 6th series of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. Real talent, superstar judges and the lack of adverts makes a winning combination for the BBC.