We don’t normally dabble into analysing The X-Factor from a business perspective but the news of falling viewing figures and consequently lower revenue based on the assumed reduction in phone votes and loss via advertising has got us thinking.
The X-Factor is a behemoth of an entertainment show; I have avoided calling it a talent show as it is tantamount to calling WWE wrestling a sport. The show has spawned many hit singles, successful tours, creates untold column inches, re-launched the career of some of the judges and has long sat at the top of the viewing figures for the last few years. However, The X-Factor is essentially a brand; if you want a brand to increase its profitability then new markets are often sought. Simon Cowell has chosen this option and taken The X-Factor across the pond. By hoping to use leverage his profile garnered on American Idol, create hype by hiring and firing judges and having a large prize fund; the show was pretty much a shoe-in to be a success. In reality, the US viewing figures have been less than stellar, Cowell allegedly wanted 20million viewers and he got around 12million for the season premiere. This sounds respectable but American Idol clocked in a massive 28million for their season premiere, this certainly puts things into perspective.
The reasons for the relative failures in both the UK and US markets are slightly different.
The UK market had a brand that was trusted, we liked our judges, the format was settled and eventually the best artist won after we got over the novelty act phase. The producers have always tweaked the format but they may have gone a ‘tweak’ too far.
The changes that have occurred this year seem to have been too significant to overlook. The number of adverts has increased (there to increase revenue) meaning the show is much more disjointed, the change in the judging panel does not seem to have been appreciated and the selection of the acts has been mystifying. Again, if you look at the early shows then it is clear to see who is in the later stages as they have interviewed the people in their homes, often many miles away. So at this point we know that the judges haven’t picked the majority of the people who are in the later stages. When they do finally get a chance to choose the acts they seem to use a Magic Eight Ball. So why trust what the brand is saying if it is contrary to what we being told to believe.
I have been involved in the audition process and I can state that the show is staged to an incredible degree. No stone gets left unturned during research so if there is a ‘shock’ or a ‘scandal’ then it is highly doubtful that this has not been managed and orchestrated by the show itself. After all you want to be in control of your brand, monitoring how it will be perceived to ensure maximum impact!
Assuming we take a different product like a packet of cereal; you have a product that will remain pretty much consistent, perhaps a small change to the packaging every now and then but if you like it then you would never really change. If the cereal box was enlarged but you got the same amount of cereal, the packaging changes to something you are unfamiliar with and the flavour is very similar but just not the same would you still want it? If there are too many changes then the consumer will no longer want what is being sold.
The US audience is subject to different challenges. Firstly The X-Factor is new and the market is pretty saturated, with American Idol and The Voice performing particularly well. Secondly, The X-Factor is not in a great timeslot up against another successful show, Modern Family, and their timeslot often shifts to accommodate the baseball. Further compounding the issues are the facts that The US are less keen on the UK format (particularly the inclusion of the crazy folk) and they also appear less taken with Nicole Scherzinger after she replaced the well-received Cheryl Cole. Quite a few challenges for a fledgling show!
So back to the cereal analogy, you introduce your new cereal on a shelf next to a successful competitor, you then move it around frequently, you also include some fruit pieces in the cereal even though they have only really been tested in other markets and then alter the packaging after a few weeks. Obviously this is a simplistic analogy but you can start to see why The X-Factor is struggling to gain traction in the US.
Creating a brand is difficult, expanding it has additional challenges, but taking your eye off the ball and resting on your laurels are a dangerous game and in the case of The X-Factor the brand expansion is not paying off at home or abroad.