When The X Factor first hit our screens way back in 2004 the world was a different place, “twerking” and “selfies” were unknown to the masses, Facebook had just been invented and pretty much no one outside her family and friends had heard of Nicole Scherzinger.
With its ability to create instant success and celebrity, its unashamed and relentless use of the “sob story” to try to create emotional connections with the contestants, and the unleashing of Simon Cowell’s pantomime Mr Nasty persona, the basis for a Saturday night blockbuster were laid.
The first few series achieved good, but not sensational ratings , it still needed something extra, a winner that could step out of the shadow of the show to become a credible artist in their own right. In 2006 the show hit jackpot when it discovered London receptionist, Leona Lewis, who went on to wow the X-Factor audience, the nation and the world. The X-Factor had produced the global star it desperately wanted.
This also proved to be the fillip needed to create a breakout in ratings for the show as it went from strength to strength trashing all comers in the TV ratings battle. So dominant was the show between 2007 and 2011, that for many Saturday night became simply The X-factor night.
The peak of the show in audience figures terms, but not necessarily in quality, was the Matt Cardle’s triumph in 2010 where the final show saw a TV audience of 19.4 million, a staggering 30% of the UK’s entire population, tuning in.
Those were the glory days, since then by its own very high targets the show has waned, changes to the show’s format, and tinkering with the judges and contestant selection has failed to stop the drift. While it still pulls in an average of 9.57 million people each week, a figure that would make any other show on UK TV envious, it is failing to fulfill its reason for existence, to dominate prime time Saturday night TV.
This year’s final featuring prison office and favourite to win, Sam Bailey , dreadlocked west country singer Luke Friend and the petite Nicholas McDonald are a trio that would probably be loved by grand-mums and grand-dads across the nation, but being one of the plainest set of finalist ever they are unlikely to reverse the declining trend.
ITV’s contract allows for three more series but it remains to be seen whether the show has enough steam to last that long.
X-Factor’s Average Audience Ratings (2004 – 2012)
Series 1 (2004) – 7.4 million
Series 2 (2005) – 8.73 million
Series 3 (2006) – 8.27 million
Series 4 (2007) – 8.57 million
Series 5 (2008) – 10.51 million
Series 6 (2009) – 13 million
Series 7 (2010) – 14.13 million
Series 8 (2011) – 12.36 million
Series 9 (2012) – 9.63 million