Britain’s Got Talent 2011: The Running Order Part 2

Britain’s Got Talent reaches the semi-final stage next week. In our last BGT preview article we noted the huge advantage of performing 8th of 8 in a semi. But what about the seven acts who are not so blessed by producers? Where’s the next best position?

Over four seasons, we’ve now had 18 semis each with 8 acts. We can plot which position in the running order the 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the public vote have come from:

BGT qualifications from semis seasons 1 to 4

Unsurprisingly, if you’re not in the pimp slot, 7th of 8 is the next best place to be. What is surprising is how 2nd and 4th positions tower above those around them.

If not just a coincidence, this could perhaps be due to the timings of commercial breaks – or it could indicate a desire on the part of producers to have a certain rhythm to the show. Perhaps, if you have only a handful of decent acts and a lot of dross, slotting in the decent acts in 2nd and 4th helps to prevent the viewer from getting bored enough to switch to another channel.

One obvious lesson from this analysis is to look out for acts who qualify from a bad draw in the semi and get a good draw in the final. Only two acts have squeaked into the final after being the first to perform in their semi – Kombat Breakers in season 1, and Diversity in season 3. Kombat Breakers sank after once again being asked to open the show in the final, but Diversity were awarded a plum spot of 9th of 10 in the final and they won.

Just how much difference did it make that Diversity had a better draw in the final? From the published percentages we can have a go at estimating it. In the semi, Diversity qualified in second place with 36.2% of the vote after performing 1st of 8, as against Susan Boyle’s 52.1% from performing 8th of 8. (Two acts qualify from each semi – the winner, and the judges’ choice from those finishing 2nd and 3rd in the public vote).

In the final, SuBo performed 8th of 10 and finished second with 20.2%; Diversity performed 9th of 10 and won the vote with 24.9%.

So with a much worse draw than SuBo in the semi, Diversity polled 69% of SuBo’s total vote. With a slightly better draw than SuBo in the final, they polled 123% of SuBo’s total – almost twice as much, relatively speaking.

Julian Smith, who closed that final after SuBo and Diversity, sheds some light on the potency of the pimp slot in the final. He polled about twice the vote of the other qualifier from his semi, 2Grand, when they performed 6th and 7th of 8 respectively. But he polled a whopping 16 times the vote of 2Grand in the final, when they performed 10th and 4th of 10 respectively.

The running order graph for the final is much more speculative than for the semis, as we have just three ten-act finals to go on (there were only six acts in Paul Potts’s final, making comparisons difficult; for the record, Potts sang 6th of 6, and the runner-up sang 5th of 6). But it leaves little doubt that it’s helpful to go if not last, then late:

BGT finals seasons 2 to 4

Twist and Pulse in 2010 are the only act to claim a top three finish after performing in the first half of the show. That they did so from the opening slot suggests this may not be such a handicap as it appears to be in the semis.

(Fans of Flawless might disagree with that statement – the dance troupe went first in the 2009 final, and were well beaten. But a comparison with the other act who qualified from their semi – Shaun Smith, who performed 7th in both events – suggests that Flawless’s relative vote surprisingly did not suffer from going first in the final compared to last in the semi. Perhaps it was just a weak semi.)

It may be that the final, being more of an event than any of the semis, demands more pimping for the first performance (“what a great way to open the show!”). But even if that’s true, it’s not something to get too carried away with – Twist and Pulse garnered barely a third of Spelbound’s winning vote, and although finishing second they were still only a handful of percentage points away from the bottom half of the vote.

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