Archive for March 26th, 2012

The Voice vs BGT: Cowell’s Monopoly on Showmanship

However much we hate him, anyone even vaguely interested in the saccharine world of Saturday Night Telly needs to say a quick prayer at the altar of Simon Cowell. Whatever side you came down on, the whole BGT/The Voice battle proved that, as an individual and a brand, he drives the whole weekend entertainment market more or less single handedly.

With both sides claiming victory and analysts still picking over the remains, the ratings battle between BGT and The Voice was a close call. While BGT won the peak ratings prize with 11.5m viewers, The Voice managed to sustain figures during its 20 minute overlap with BGT, showing that Cowell’s property didn’t entice many viewers away.

However, the publicity battle was clearly dominated by one man alone.  You can’t manufacture, train or interview for a showbiz force like Cowell. For all his slick, cultivated grouchiness, he is approachable. Like the great capitalist showmen before him- PR Barnum and Gordon Selfridge to name two- he befriends journalists and makes himself available naturally, without looking desperate, and without needing to concede too many favours.

As a consequence, when he went in guns blazing to the pre-show PR wrangling, the results were staggering. From a few artfully handled nubs about his sense of humour failure on Jonathan Ross (which served the purpose of placing Cowell firmly on his pedestal as well as re-establishing the funnyman profile of David Walliams), to his threats to ‘poach’ Jessie J, he brought the firepower, and the papers lapped it up. I don’t think I’d realised until now how much The X Factor suffered from his absence.

The Voice is a great show, and a much quoted tweet of mine describing it as ‘too complicated’ was overly hasty- this is a real grower. However, I hope they learn a sharp lesson from this- the beast of compliance creates caution, which numbs the sense of promotion. As Dan Wootton tweeted on Friday, the lengths the BBC went to to play down the importance of ratings were fascinating. With spend on the programme reaching 22million, the pretence was farcical- evidence only of the beeb’s lack of publicity balls.

With outlets like the BBC dominated by an obscurantist, executive driven culture, where is the next Cowell? Whether the thought of another fills you with dread or fervour, you can’t deny that a publicity punch-up between the two is just the sugar rush the Saturday night chatter has been waiting for.