“It’s like new territory again. I’ve had to shed everything we did with the U.K. version and get into my head that this is a brand-new audience who actually knew nothing about this show.â? Well not exactly Simonâ¦
Reality TV mogul Lord Cowell told the L.A. Times that he feels as if heâs starting from scratch by bringing X Factor to America, but audiences disagree. Cowell would have a legitimate claim if he was discussing American Idolâs premier ten years ago, but since then the US has seen a plethora of reality singing contests, including NBCâs The Voice which essentially stole the X Factor format before Cowell had a chance to bring it to the States.
“This is the same old Idol same old, complete with Idol’s peculiar blend of the Kramdens and Burns and Allen, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.” said USA Today in September, while The New York Times described Welsh heart-throb presenter Steve Jones as ‘utterly irrelevant’. “He’s so far in the background, he might as well be on another network,” said one of the newspaper’s TV critics.
The X Factor USA premiered to 12 million viewers, especially impressive considering that the showing was moved opposite hugely successful Modern Family and Criminal Minds due to a scheduled baseball game, but this equates to only half of the American Idol audience. Ratings continue to underwhelm in comparison and it doesnât help that X Factor is regularly aired against established reality TV giants Dancing With The Stars as well as The Biggest Loser.
Nor does it help that Fox has placed it regularly in the middle of a Tuesday night line-up between segments of unpopular local programming and continues to move its time slot due to baseball game scheduling conflicts. One episode, pitted against the Sunday Night Football game garnered only 8.6 million viewers, the showâs all-time low. Meanwhile, Fox has always given Idol a coveted Monday and Tuesday night spot, which it has held for years and continues to dominate.
“Sunday’s show attracted the smallest audience so far this season,” explained The Washington Post this week. “Alhough Fox is certain to âspecial outâ? the episode, which means the puny ratings wonât be counted against the showâs season average and thwart British reality-TV impresario Cowellâs hopes of eventually achieving 20 million viewers for his franchise, in its U.S. iteration.”
The unfortunate scheduling perhaps explains X Factorâs slow start, which has yet to become a real threat to the hallmark Idol. Critics also site overt product placements (can the judges really like Pepsi that much?), Nicole Scherzingerâs robotic replacement of Cheryl Cole (who was popular with many US viewers) and the blatant selection of talentless weirdos as possible reasons for the lack of instant success.
Itâs just too little too late for Cowell, who was once an American reality TV pioneer, but now seems to be not only rehashing a popular British show, but entering a market that is already filled to the brim in America. Itâs going to be hard to compete with Idol considering that both programs are aired on Fox, which clearly favors the long-standing original in its scheduling. While X Factor USA has managed to obtain decent ratings, it will take a little more innovation to standout in the crowd and compete with American Idolâs huge fan base as Cowell predicted it would.