On Saturday 30th August ‘The X Factor’ returned to our screens, an event that for the last 12 years has been met with excitement not just by avid followers of the show, but the advertising industry as well.
This year we have seen the show open its doors to the Toys and Games industry with both Hasbro and LEGO running spots in recent weeks. In its heyday, during the sixth series (2009), it was reaching an average of a 13 million viewers with 45% share of the total TV audience, but the numbers have continued to drop since this and the 2014 series achieved its lowest average audience yet with 27% (9.44 million).
With continued audience declines, will ‘The X Factor’ still deliver on Hasbro’s and LEGO’s marketing objectives?
‘The X Factor’ no longer holds the top spot on a Saturday night as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is already toping its audience week on week this year. ‘Strictly’s’ pre-launch warmup show was watched by 8.69 million people with a 24% share of UK individuals, 1.56 million (4%) more than ‘The X Factor’ on the same night.
Further evidence of ‘Strictly’s success is demonstrated by the show's 15 minute overlap on the Saturday night and their respective TV audience shares over this time showing ‘Strictly’ with 40% against ‘The X Factors’ 24%.
This isn’t a new phenomenon as we have seen the ‘Strictly’ and ‘X Factor’ ratings battle fluctuate since 2012 when ‘Strictly’ started sporadically outperforming ‘The X Factor’.
Despite ‘Strictly’ edging the ratings battle over ‘The X Factor’ it remains off limits to UK advertisers. Analysing other top performing shows across August 2015, ‘The X Factor’s’ opening episode on the 29th was the most watched on commercial TV, only being beaten by the 4 airings of, non-commercial BBC’s, ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in August.
Despite ‘The X Factor’s’ decline in popularity, it still remains a viewer’s favourite and one of the top shows available to advertisers to buy into in this period,. The only commercial show that came close to ‘The X Factor’ in August was ‘Coronation Street’, which arguably doesn’t generate those water cooler moments ‘The X Factor’ creates.
Further to this, last year’s ratings figures over the August-December period show ‘The X Factor’ still remains in the top 20 commercial shows, but repeat series’ such as ‘I’m a celebrity’ and ‘Downton Abby’ all brought in larger audiences. This diversification of ‘Big TV’ shows has undoubtedly resulted in fragmentation of advertising spend.
One of the most transparent examples of this is the 2014 ‘John Lewis’ Christmas ad. In 2013 we saw the iconic TV ad launched in ‘The X Factor’, and 2014 saw the launch move into Channel 4’s ‘Gogglebox’. Brands are becoming increasingly smarter, moving away from solely focusing on reaching big numbers to looking into program context, affinity and relevance to their brand.
It’s not just the decline in ratings that have affected ‘The X Factor’ over the last decade.
We have also seen a considerable decrease in live viewing as more people opt to record and watch the show at a later date. When ‘The X Factor’ launched in 2004 an average of 3% of its audience viewed the show time shifted. Fast forwarding to 2015 this number has increased to 25%, 7% above the average in this period, supporting the earlier point of fragmentation within the TV landscape. This increase in time shifted viewing is mimicked in On-demand viewing as shown in BARB’s recent TV Player Report, ‘The X Factor’ was the 14th most viewed programme on On-demand sites across week ending the 13th September.
The report reveals the only commercial show viewed more than ‘The X Factor’ across the same week was ‘Made in Chelsea’, with the other 12 top places being taken by BBC programming. On-demand TV further mimics Live TV with ‘Big TV’ shows like ‘Bake Off’ and top ‘Soaps’ being the highest viewed, suggesting a subtle shift in the TV landscape as more people move away from managing their time around Live TV to recording TV and watching back when they have free time.
The annual TV landscape is becoming oligopolistic, with a host of Big TV shows vying for large shares of the TV audience. That said ‘The X Factor’ is still watched by large numbers, remains one of the top commercial TV shows of 2015 so far and is an obvious choice for advertisers such as Hasbro and LEGO.
However, considering the continued audience declines and an oft-cited tired format, perhaps it is time for advertisers such as Hasbro and LEGO to look beyond ‘The X Factor’…