Every dog has his day. Now that the dust has settled on Pudsey’s, let’s have a look at what punters might be able to learn from BGT 2012.
Before the final, having wondered with his usual memorable turn of phrase if it were “possible that the voting public has simply moved beyond the whole “disadvantaged lumpenprole hollering opera/Les Mis” thang”, Sofabet commenter Eurovicious raised an interesting question: “There’s an argument that the girl and dog are more immediate, relatable and fun. But do they have a sob story? … A daft dancing dog act may give people a chuckle and make them go “aww” but arguably it can’t touch them on the level of a genuinely moving or breathtaking song or dance performance”.
Is it far, far, far too cynical to see Alesha Dixon’s and Simon Cowell’s post-performance comments as the solution to Eurovicious’s question? Ash and Puds apparently made Alesha think about “people who treat animals wrongly”, while Simon went on to inform us that “anyone who can be cruel to an animal is in my mind totally sick” and made a shoutout to the charity Canine Angels K-9 Angels. Is it conceivable that some viewers might just have picked up a subliminal message that a vote for Ash and Puds is a vote against cruelty to dogs?
Even if so, such a tactic is unlikely to be applicable outside of dog acts, and one assumes BGT has now done the “dog thang” for a few more years at least. So, moving on, we have a couple of observations to make – nothing we didn’t know already, but perhaps useful to reinforce – and a couple of questions on which we’d love to hear your opinions.
Observation #1: What producers want may become clear only with hindsight
With the publication of the voting statistics, it seems clear that producers must have been gunning for an Ashleigh and Pudsey victory all week long. Last year, when Ronan Parke was edged out by only a couple of percentage points, it looked like a calculated risk in putting him on relatively early hadn’t quite paid off. This year, Ash and Puds stormed it, winning by 39% to Jonathan and Charlotte’s 25%. With that kind of margin, it surely can’t have been an accident.
But nor was it obvious in advance. When we suggested before the semis that producers ought to be happy enough with the prospect of a Jonathan and Charlotte victory, there was no demurral among Sofabet’s army of incredibly astute commenters. Even as momentum shifted to the dog in the day or two before the final, discussion in the comments focused on appeal to the public — for example, Nugget was going “purely on what I hear from friends and colleagues” while Donald rightly observed that they “seem to have caught the public imagination” — rather than on what producers might want to achieve.
It was PG who explicitly zeroed in on what is, with hindsight, surely the key point: “Long term Cowell will make the most money from J&C or just J so maybe it doesn’t overly matter to him if they get beat in the final, a gallant second place will do.” It would have been simple enough for producers to de-ramp the dog, had they wanted to, instead of bestowing the second-from-last slot with a striking Mission:Impossible theme.
Even in-running, while several Sofabet commentators accurately read the runes, other Betfair punters were willing to lay Ash and Puds at what Richard Betsfactor called the “ridiculous price of 3.75 (so much so I was wondering if there was some insider knowledge that someone had drugged Pudsey)”; as Boki observed, “The spike at 3.5~4 was at the moment when everyone realized J&C have the pimp slot.”
Props, then, to BGT producers for keeping punters guessing about what they were aiming for. One last-minute clue came in Jonathan and Charlotte’s VT with a moment straight from the Johnny Robinson playbook, when Jonathan says “I’ve always suffered from confidence issues but now I realise people do actually quite like me” (translation: folk, don’t bother pick up the phone; Jonathan has completed his journey and needs no further validation by winning the final).
But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Just imagine for a moment that the stats had shown Jonathan and Charlotte had won by 39% to 25%; I venture to suggest that none of us here would have been especially shocked. We’d all have been saying “sure, they were the most commercially viable act and in the pimp slot, what else did we expect?”
Observation #2: The first semi does seem to be significant
We have noted before that performing last in the first semi has historically heralded a strong result in the final – Paul Potts, Signature, SuBo, Spelbound, Ronan Parke. This time around, Only Boys Aloud continued the run by following up their pimp slot in the first semi with a third place finish in the final – while Ash and Puds, of course, won that first semi from 8th of 9 in the running order and went on to win the final.
When we first commented on this, last year, we asked:
It’s hard to tease out cause and effect with Signature and Spelbound. Was their appearance in the last slot in the first semi a sign that producers rated them highly even at that relatively early stage?
Or perhaps the very fact of closing the first semi boosts your vote in comparison to closing other semis? We don’t know, as the raw vote totals aren’t released. But it seems somewhat plausible that viewers may vote more in the first semi than in the subsequent ones, as the initial rush of enthusiasm gives way to an awareness of their mounting phone bill.
This year’s statistics would appear to lend credence to this line of speculation. To see why, it’s well worth taking a moment to ponder how the semi-final votes translated into votes in the final.
In semi 1, Ash and Puds got 50%, Only Boys Aloud 30% and The Mend 12%. In the final, those percentages became 39%, 15% and 2%. Comparatively speaking this was a better result for Ash and Puds, now performing after the choir; and a worse one for The Mend, now in the death slot while The Voice was still on the other side. In all, pretty much what you’d expect.
In semi 2, Jonathan and Charlotte got 75% to Kai and Natalia’s 6%. In the final, that was 25% to 0.4%. An even more crushing relative victory in the final, but it’s hard to read anything much into that given the greater room for statistical noise in what must have been low overall vote totals for Kai and Natalia. Again, then, in line with what you’d expect.
Semi 3 saw the Loveable Rogues (40%) get about double the votes of Molly Rainford (22%). In the final, basically the same thing (5.7% to 2.6%).
Semi 4 was won by Sam Kelly with 26% to Nu Sxool’s 20%. A close-ish result narrowly reversed in the final when they got 1% and 1.2% respectively, having been swapped in order. No surprises here.
Semi 5’s winner Ryan O’Shaughnessy got 42%, triple the vote of Aquabatique on 14%. In the final this became 4.8% to 0.9% – a bigger relative margin, but well within the bounds of what one might have anticipated.
All in all, then, had you known the percentages in the semis you would have been able to do a pretty good job of predicting how the semi winners would perform relative to the acts they beat. Which gives us a strong hint as we try to reverse-engineer the crucial missing variable – the raw vote totals. From this analysis it seems reasonable to conclude that the first semi must have seen the largest number of votes by some distance, and semi 4 the least.
With hindsight, so much of our pre-show speculation about appeal to the voting public turned out to be irrelevant. Would Sam and Ryan split the boy-with-guitar vote? Yes… but if Ryan had also received Sam’s 1%, he’d have finished a distant fourth rather than a distant fifth. Would The Mend and The Loveable Rogues split the boyband vote? Yes… but a combined boyband vote would merely have reclaimed that distant fourth from Ryan. Unbeknownst to us, none of them were ever seriously in the game.
There are plausible reasons for thinking that going in the first semi might be an advantage – it gives you a chance to cement your place in the public’s consciousness, whereas performing in semi 5 means you have to dislodge acts which have already set up camp in the voters’ hearts. The assumption is that having voted for an act already in the semis gives a viewer more of an emotional investment in that act’s success in the final.
Would we have seen a different story play out if, say, semis 1 and 5 had been reversed, with the Ryan O show kicking off the week and Ash and Puds filling one of the last two slots? It seems quite likely, and this is something punters might want bear in mind for 2013.
Now we want to pick your brains on a couple of matters.
Question #1: Why does postshow success apparently depend more on winning for some acts than for others?
PG’s key insight that “a gallant second place will do” raises an interesting question. If second would do for Jonathan and Charlotte, then why did Simon react to Ronan Parke’s defeat last year by looking as pleased as if a kilted man with orange hair had just slapped him about the face with a Loch Fyne kipper?
For those unfamiliar with Ronan Parke’s trajectory in the music industry since BGT 2011, his self-titled debut album Ronan Parke reached 22 in the UK charts and he was dropped by his record label. It seems reasonable to assume that dizzier heights might have been anticipated of him had he had the aura of “winner” about him.
And yet, finishing second to Diversity seems to have done SuBo no harm. One Direction’s path to world domination was not significantly diverted by a third-place finish in the X Factor. Why do some acts seem able to achieve postshow success independently of winning the show, while winning is apparently considered important for the prospects of others?
My best guess is that perhaps it matters less if the act in question loses out to other acts which are very clearly fishing in different waters. SuBo’s postshow commercial demographic were perhaps unlikely to feel that she had been tarnished by defeat at the hands of an urban street dance outfit, while those who may buy Jonathan and Charlotte’s album are perhaps not going to think any the worse of them for being bested by an extremely cute dog. Ronan, however, lost out to another solo male singer; is that what doomed him, or are there more nuanced factors at work?
We’d love to know what you all think about this, as it seems like a pivotal question for punters for future series of such shows — when can we expect producers to flog the most commercially viable-looking act for the win, and when can we expect them to be relaxed about post-show commercial viability?
Question #2: What can we expect from the X Factor groups this year?
A curiosity, this one. Last year, as we know, the X Factor were reduced to cobbling together two boybands from the detritus of bootcamp. It did not go well – Nu Vibe reportedly hated each other, while bits kept falling off The Risk. As well as adding to the general sense that the work experience students had been left in charge, this also suggested that the show had been unable to locate a functioning pre-formed boyband.
And yet, a few months later two perfectly serviceable ones pop up on BGT in the shape of The Mend and The Loveable Rogues. And the show neglects to give either of them a meaningful push in the final (unless you count pushing The Mend under the bus).
Why not keep one in reserve for the XF this year? Does it suggest there is a plan already in place for the groups? Or that the BGT and XF teams are perhaps not averse in a little oneupmanship – “you couldn’t find a decent boyband, we’ve got them to burn”?
Theories on this and other reflections on what we can take this year’s BGT are, as ever, most welcome in the comments box below.