Has The Voice UK been a success?

June 5, 2012 2:58 pm

The swivelling chairs, prominent in The Voice UK's auditions, gave the BBC show a unique selling point over previous talent shows

Like most of the nine thousand other viewers who tuned into the first episode of The Voice UK on 24th March this year, I was encouraged by the different direction that the show seemed to be taking. It seemed that the public had warmed to the ‘swivel chaired’ uniqueness of the programme that sold itself as a competition that was purely focused on the artist’s voice. This selling point proved to be a big hit with viewers who were tired of the same old format of the X Factor that has been a firm fixture of Saturday nights since 2004. With the declining viewing figures for the latest series of the ITV broadcasted show, it seemed like the perfect time for BBC producers to gamble on spending licence fee payers funds on a show that has been successful in the US. For the first few weeks of the series, The Voice UK consistently beat its Saturday night rival, Britain’s Got Talent, into second spot come the ratings table on the following Monday morning. Its consistency at the top of the standings even prompted Simon Cowell to admit the Beeb’s show’s supremacy.

Not only did The Voice UK shout loudly about focusing on only a person’s vocal skills, it also banked on the celebrity pulling power of its chosen judges, or coaches as they like to style them as. By recruiting Jessie J, will.i.am, Tom Jones and Danny O’Donoghue, the BBC were confident of attacking a broader base of viewers than it had done previously with Fame Academy in the early 2000s. The singing and performing styles of the four coaches, it was hoped, would attract a wide range of artists to audition for the programme and that there would be ‘something for everyone’ come the televised shows. From that point of view, The Voice UK must surely be seen as a success. It certainly does have the sense of being less commercial than BGT and The X Factor and appears to have pulled in a wide range of hopefuls representing varied singing and performing styles to the show. The BBC’s previous attempt at a singing talent show, Fame Academy, did not work wonders for the BBC between 2002-2003 and never competed competitively with Pop Idol over on ITV and was promptly cancelled after only two series. Since then, the corporation has stayed away from singing competitions and allowed ITV to gain virtual supremacy of Saturday nights. The Voice UK was launched on a wave of public disillusionment with ITV’s offerings and everyone at the BBC involved in its importation had their fingers crossed for a successful first run.

However, with the final upon us at last, viewing figures for the BBC’s new Saturday night contender have been falling week by week. Since the end of the audition process, the show has revered to the standard format of performances and subsequent eliminations that have become so familiar to the British public thanks to The X Factor and previously Pop Idol. By taking away the feature of the coaches facing away from the performers during songs, the viewing public grew frustrated that the latter stages of the programme was simply a replication of other talent contests. Neutered of its uniqueness, The Voice UK began to look distinctly average in comparison to BGT. Consequently, the ITV show started to pick up more and more viewing figures and eventually beat its new rival for the last few weeks of its latest run. To its credit, BGT did change the way it was presenting the programme, putting more auditions into the allotted time and including less unnecessary build up before each act. Its attempts to adapt to new challenges to its popularity, if only slightly, suggest that ITV and Simon Cowell are not ready to give up Saturday nights just yet.

Simon Cowell's hold over Saturday nights seems not to be rivalled

The Voice UK’s ratings have continued to drop even with Britain’s Got Talent off the air. With its estimated £22 importation price to bring it across the pond from our American cousins, there is huge pressure on the show to end on a high and generate enthusiasm for the next series. The sizeable financial gamble that the BBC has invested in this project demands that the final and series two do more to hold down a large enough audience to justify the price tag. The latter stages of the competition will have to be altered in order to stay competitive and still attract fans who are tired of The X Factor format. It can not be left out, however, that The Voice UK has done significantly better than its predecessor, Fame Academy. The new show has more financial backing behind it and does not include the Big Brother style house that formed part of the show which detracted from the singing focus. It has successfully promoted itself on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, which Fame Academy were not able to because they had not been set up at the time. The Voice UK has not performed badly for the majority of its run and the negative focus that has been placed upon it is probably reflective of the gamble that has been taken on it. The early figures were impressive and the BBC will now aim to regain those lost millions who started to tune out after the initial few weeks. At this stage, The Voice UK does not look destined to follow Fame Academy’s fortunes, but it will need to reconsider how to present its live shows in order to keep the BBC producers, licence fee payers and ultimatly, the fans, happy.

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