Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Reality Ratings

Sunday, 20 May 2012

  According to a newspaper story, The Voice (that BBC One talent show where would-be singers are judged blind by Tom Jones and some other pop stars I know less about) will “undergo a huge overhaul for its next series following a ratings slump”.

  Can I make a plea, to whoever’s doing this “huge overhaul” ? Can you take the results show OFF Sunday night? This isn’t just about The Voice, or even reality TV; bear with me…

  And this isn’t a personal plea from a big reality TV fan - I used to be, mainly because of the betting potential, but I’ve rather gone off them now. That’s at least partly because of the Sunday night thing.

  A singing contest series used to make for quite gripping nights of telly: a long episode of performances, a half-hour break, then a live results show. Splitting this over two nights (I think The X Factor did it first) killed it; there had been suspense and drama in that half hour wait, but who still cares 24 hours later? Watching both shows commits you to two nights’ viewing back-to-back, which is too much for that kind of pap. Besides, if you watch the whole Sunday results show, you mainly see clip-summaries of what you watched the night before anyway (and I’m not that much of a moron; I can remember), but if you tune in for the last ten minutes for results alone, there’s no build-up and it’s too easy to see what meaningless nonsense the “drama” is.

  But if you only watch the Saturday show and don’t tune back for the results at all, then you’ve opted out of what the programme actually is; all you’ve watched is some amateur singing. You’d be better off putting on an old Frank Sinatra video. And if you only watch the Sunday show, you see no more than 40 seconds of each performance and you don’t care who wins.

  The change to double-night broadcasting self-evidently made the whole thing worse: worse television, worse viewing experience, worse use of scheduling time. So why do it? Only out of greed, to leave the phone lines open longer and rake in more cash from viewers innocent enough to believe that it really matters if they vote. That makes sense for ITV, albeit in a cold and nasty way. But why on the BBC? They pre-record their results shows anyway; whether The Voice or Strictly, the phone lines are only ever open for a short burst on Saturday night. There’s no logic for putting out a pre-recorded results show 24 hours later if it isn’t even bringing them any money. So presumably they’re doing it only because ITV does it.
  That’s the worst reason to do anything in any creative medium.

  If the people responsible for the “huge overhaul” on The Voice want to do something good, and that will go down well with audiences, that will re-inject drama and suspense into their programme, they should put out a live results show half an hour after the main one’s finished. It’s the best change they can make.

  I know it might seem a waste of time to write a blog about something so tiny as when a reality results show should be broadcast, especially since nobody involved in the programmes will ever see it or care, but it’s not really about that. It’s about the frustration of too much on TV being too derivative, too copycat, too nervous - and this is the most extreme example I can think of. It copies another channel’s scheduling plan with absolutely no logic other than copying. As they hatched this “new” project, nobody even ASKED THE QUESTION, “What would be better” ? They just asked “What do other people do?”

  Translate that attitude into commissioning and planning for documentaries, news, arts, comedy, drama and… well, it’s just a bit bloody depressing.

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The Tim at 11:49 am on May 20th, 2012

Isn’t the whole point to keep viewers in suspense for as long as possible - like in any good drama - giving everyone enough time with their real and online friends to fully speculate and debate as to the outcome? I think any true aficionado would still care after 24 hours’ conjecture - it’s something we’re very used to. It wouldn’t be half as exciting if all the results of the next election were announced just after the polling stations closed or if you saw how the Doctor escaped being zapped by a spaceman just half an hour later? You get my point…
I also fancy it’s easier to have time to record and edit the results and the BBC does need to keep up with current trends. I’ve got lots more to say on this but you’ll have to wait for my next posting tomorrow…

Dan at 6:33 pm on May 20th, 2012

Hm well I think Vicky makes a very convincing point!

Nowadays you can buy a lot of programmes, including Doctor Who, on DVD (it’s news I know) but I don’t think anyone waits a week to put the next episode on..  more likely to lose sleep because they’ve watched half a season of The Wire that night!

KlooRhee at 12:06 am on May 21st, 2012

I do agree that wasting BBC on promoting Maltesers is a little bit of a middle finger to paying subscribers.

What happens to investigative journalism though is a bit a of a bigger beef. No one ever acts on that sh*t. We all see it and we forget about it in about a week. There should be some phone voting set up I guess….

thestooshie at 12:32 am on May 21st, 2012

I think it was Strictly that began the trend but I said it was a terrible idea at the time and agree to this day!

I can only imagine it was prompted by ratings-grabbing and a lack of imagination in terms of Sunday night scheduling.

The Tim at 10:21 pm on May 23rd, 2012

OK, Doctor Who was probably not a good example – if I get a DVD I personally wait at least a day between watching episodes, but maybe I’m just a freak.
I don’t think most viewers make the distinction of differing production companies – it would be too confusing if ‘The Voice’ did its results on the same day.  I doubt if many appreciate that Only Connect is not made by the BBC.
BTW, I’m glad to see an thread that isn’t about poker.

David Bodycombe at 11:37 am on May 24th, 2012

Similarly, I’m amazed that the second show of a drama two-parter only gets 70% of the audience of the first half. Don’t the 30% care how it ends? Would 30% of people ever get halfway through a novel and then toss it aside?

The Tim at 10:33 am on May 25th, 2012

DavidB - it’s a question of whether the viewers have been made to care about the characters. If not then they won’t bother to find out what happens to them.
One of the many things I like about OC is that unlike Mastermind, say, the characters emerge as they try and solve the clues and you find yourself rooting for the ones you like. Please don’t let them show the missing vowels round on the following day, though, I couldn’t bear that (even worse than having to wait a day before your post appears on the thread).
While you’re here can I just say thanks for providing the Connecting Walls in Radio Times – which will keep me going until the next series shows. It’s a little harder without the screen but at least you don’t get that posh lady saying ‘Not a good score’.

MDW at 2:04 pm on May 29th, 2012

I thought The Voice had ended then I noticed last weekend was the semi finals - they’ve clearly never heard of the saying leave the audience begging for more

There is a worse programme for going over everything again and that is Grand Designs (a show I love) but when it’s a ‘catch up’ show 35mins is recapping what happened when Kevin was there 3 years ago (I’m not a child, I recognise these people and this plot of scrub land, I don’t need a recap)

The Voice for me is a couple of good ideas killed by twice as many bad ones - it reminds me of when Big Brother started years ago, the most famous element was a chair.

Dave P at 5:56 am on May 30th, 2012

If “Strictly” did start the trend, there may be a reason. “Dancing With The Stars”, the USA version (also including Len & Bruno as judges) has always operated a two night format and has done exceptionally well in the ratings.
However it operates on Monday and Tuesday nights which may make a difference. The phone calls are free and only open for one hour after the end of the Monday broadcast, so that doesn’t factor into the rationale behind the two night USA format. They pad out both shows with a lot of extra content, guest artists, comedy slots, mawkish biographies of the contestants etc etc, which may help their two night format to be successful. Or they may just have a higher tolerance for reality TV.

Sanj at 11:27 pm on May 31st, 2012

I don’t watch this type of tv but will watch the odd episode so i can bitch about it authenticly.  I think where the voice screwed up was with the blind bit.  They should have kept the contestant identities secret until they were out.  Even I would have been intrigued to watch as each “voice” was revealed.  Dragging the same garbage out over 2 days is pointless.  “and the person being sent home is…..”  I’m sure some academic will do research into what the maximum time for the delay can be before no one gives a damn. 

Victoria Coren

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