The X Factor Goes Live to Lop Five as US Version Struggles

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The lesson of this TV season so far is that there may be room for only one blockbuster singing-competition reality show per country. In the United States, the disappointing ratings so far for The X Factor on FOX could indicate that Americans make available only so much bandwidth for that kind of show, and FOX’s American Idol has pretty much sucked it up for the 10 years of its existence.

But in the United Kingdom, there’s a different king of the hill: The X Factor has remained the nation’s No. 1 program for the last seven years.

To goose viewership, tonight The X Factor’ judges will cut a whopping five acts and decide the surviving Top 12 acts live.[more]

Simon Cowell, it seems, might have counted too much on the appeal of his own gnarly personality to make the U.S. version of The X Factor a bigger hit than it’s proven so far.

The presumption was that his persona was a major key to Idol’s success, but that show’s first season without him, last spring, actually fared better ratings-wise than his last season with Idol. At the same time, Cowell has toned down his schtick in The X Factor, resembling more a slightly kinder and gentler version of himself than was last on view in Idol.

Another hiccup for The X Factor has been a glaring inability at this point to give its highly touted, exclusive brand sponsors — Pepsi, Chevrolet, Verizon, and Sony —any kind of unique or exceptionally effective platforms. They’re happy to take make-good time on the show to compensate for lower-than-expected ratings, the Wall Street Journal reports. But they’d probably be happier with better promotion of their brands, especially in placements.

On the TV show itself, Pepsi’s biggest presence seems to be its logo on the cups on the judges’ desk; nothing is different there than what Coke does on Idol. And while a release about Chevy’s participation last summer promised “seaon-long organic product placement” on The X Factor, the brand’s integrated presence so far seems to have been largely restricted to quick shots of Cowell and the other judges getting in and out of, and riding in, Chevrolet vehicles to and from their gigs. Again, this is no match for what Idol’s auto sponsor, Ford, has achieved with regular “Ford Music Videos” produced with cast members and aired during the shows.

It’s true that Pepsi has innovated for social media with The X Factor. And Bensussen Deutsch & Associates is producing a full line of officially licensed X Factor merchandise in conjunction with FremantleMedia and Syco Productions, including t-shirts, jewelry, computer and phone accessories.

But it’s still mostly about what appears on the TV screen and whether people watch it. And actually, American viewers overall may be tiring of the song-and-dance-reality-show format. So for those reasons and more, The X Factor remains very much an important work in progress.

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