BGT 2012 post mortem – Two observations, two questions

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?”

The not-very-original lesson — as Boki, Richard Betsfactor, Danzaa and others discussed — is that it pays to hedge.

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.

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32 comments to BGT 2012 post mortem – Two observations, two questions

  • Henry VIII

    Question 1 – I don’t agree with some of your conclusions (unusually). I think post-show success is more to do with if they have anything special to offer. Ronan and Jai didn’t, SuBo did.

    Question 2 – I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Mend or Loveable Rogues turn up on X Factor – “Simon thought we should give it a go as he thought we didn’t perform on BGT as well as we could have done.”

    • Andrew

      Hi Henry, I really don’t have any conclusions of my own to offer for question 1 – I just thought it was an interesting question.

      I’m sure you’re right about Ronan, but that just shifts the question back a level – why the apparent keenness to secure the win, if not because they thought it would set him up for postshow success? Or, if they erred in thinking it would set him up for postshow success, what might have made them think that way?

      • Henry VIII

        I too think Cowell would have liked Ronan to win for post-show success. But Cowell had been criticised for TCO’s (chosen ones) being on last and also criticised for secretly grooming Ronan prior to BGT, so they stuck him on 6th. But I come back to point that I think it’s their real talent much more than whether they win or not that’s important for post-show success and …

        The creation of a decent show is the most important thing in the ordering. The money Cowell and ITV make for the show belittles even the millions he made from SuBo. (ITV wouldn’t allow him to be recklessly selfish in the ordering anyway, I would guess the ITV producer has the final say). TCO’s will be among the best acts so they will be near the end of the show (at the end, all other things being equal), because the best acts at the end simply make a better show, in addition to, and more important than, Cowell positioning them for post-show success.

        And it’s more important to end the show with a wow if possible than with a TCO. Diversity was for me the best act ever seen on BGT (I only saw it later). Spelbound was both TCO and wow so got pimp slot. Pudsey was TCO but Jonathan provided the wow so he was pimp slot (or that was the idea – he would have wowed even more with something like Nessun Dorma).

        • Andrew

          Hi Henry, Agree with all of that – there’s usually a happy overlap in the venn diagram of favoured acts who they want on late for vote purposes, and wow acts who they want on late for show purposes.

          My question is really about how might we discern who is TCO when it isn’t clear beforehand (as I would argue e.g. it was with Ronan, but not with J&C/A&P). Why is TCO sometimes the one you would guess they think has most commercial potential (e.g. Ronan) and sometimes not (e.g. Ash and Puds)? Do they feel that certain kinds of act (Ronan) need a win to boost them commercially, while others (J&C) are more able to survive a gallant second? If so, why?

          • Henry VIII

            Well Andrew I don’t think Cowell thinks so crucially about A needing a win for future success but B not. A win helps all but I’m sure the show comes first, before anyone’s future earning potential.

            And I think we can definitely argue that the dog was TCO. They’d had singers of Jonathan’s ilk winning and runner up in just 5 shows, but no dog. It’s a variety show.

          • Andrew

            Agreed Henry, it would certainly have been possible to argue beforehand that the dog would turn out to be TCO, for the reasons you mention. I just don’t think it was obvious – I think you could have also made a case for expecting J&C might be TCO.

            I guess the fundamental question I’m driving at is how TCO is chosen in the first place. I would assume there are two factors that go into consideration – what’s good for the show, and considerations of post-show commercial positioning. Often they will overlap – but what happens when they don’t?

            I still wonder if there are some types of act that “need” the win more than others. But you may well be correct that the answer is a very simple one – the show always takes precedence. You need to keep the goose alive so it can keep laying the golden eggs.

  • Alex

    I might be wrong, but haven’t The Mend already been on The X Factor? I’m sure I read somewhere that they got eliminated at the boot camp stage either last year or the year before.

  • eurovicious

    I’m better at the turn of phrase than I am at the betting!

    I love Jai and Ronan but the market for them just wasn’t there. I’m not sure it’s there for Jonathan and Charlotte, the Loveable Rogues or The Mend either. No doubt a J&C album will be rushed out and be a moderate commercial success, but I can’t see them lasting to a second as a duo. Only Boys Aloud will sell well (them and J&C are perfect for the Classic FM brigade) and Ryan will come out big in Ireland – he’s already known there not just from The Voice, but having played a recurring teen character in the country’s main soap. Subo did well for herself because she has the Adele factor – she appeals to women of a certain age with traditional tastes who don’t follow popular culture and don’t normally buy music, but who like real women with good voices (not rake-thin spray-tanned sexpots dressed in little more than two bandaids and a cork, croaking come-ons over a house beat). Case in point: my mum, who loves Adele and Subo (and Connie Fisher) but who in 2008 once asked me “What is MTV? Is it something to do with Mary Tyler Moore?”

  • tpfkar

    I didn’t really watch any of BGT this year, but well done to everyone who made good money.

    One thought on Ronan Parke: was it the fix allegations which destroyed him? He was alleged to have been a SyCo plant all along, having been groomed and re-imaged for several years. SyCo denied it all, but the allegations were widely reported. Not only do I think this cost him victory in the final, but has it undermined his whole career? Will he always be tarnished with fix allegations?

    BGT can only provide a platform for talented acts, suitably packaged to suit ITV’s whims. After that they are on their own and will have to sink/swim based on talent and appeal. Is it possible that the ones who have not flown are the ones where the reality never matched Cowell’s hype about them? New Bounce come to mind.

    • eurovicious

      Tomorrow’s chip paper. I just don’t think there was/is demand for him. I’m sure they were trying to make him the UK Bieber, but while Bieber gets a lot of buzz, arguably he doesn’t really shift units in the UK either. So yes, actual demand never matched perceived demand.

    • Andrew

      Hi tpfkar, hard to say if the allegations had any effect on Ronan’s vote and career. You may well be right – but then, you would think that an act with sufficiently strong commercial appeal might have survived.

      What about One Direction? I don’t think reality ever matched hype, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped them!

  • Donald

    As you say hindsight is a wonderful thing. I have been too busy to watch BGT and The Voice properly but Sofabet a great guide.
    Obviously happy to say the run of good luck continued on here for me.

    It is an advantage to be on early in the week I think. More press opportunities etc. The producers know that also.

    If the choir were on early I would have been more cautious.

    Hedge was the way for sure although I kept going on A&P for the win as it became obvious. Had a nice win but without hindsight it was fingers crossed as I posted on Saturday.

    I was afraid the run of luck on here might run out but it stayed. But my hunch said the dog.

    Few more thoughts will post later but your last question above re qroups for X-Factor is potentially so spot on.

    I posted earlier this year about a group for X- Factor this year. I found out about what happened last year with them.
    I can’t post how or what on here really but I know and will guide.

    But remember I got X-Factor wrong early on last year, recovered well well but lesson learned.

    Now my mindset has been to stick to the Sofabet and its commentators as it is so early but you are right they do have a group and it’s not a put together group. Whether they win or not is another days work. I was even keeping an eye on audition dates etc. early on but been too busy. I was even going to go and watch the auditions quietly, but I lost all touch with auditions online just because no time so if anyone on here up to speed with current auditions for 2012 that would be helpful.
    I found out by pure chance on my travels.
    I know YouTube, twitter etc. but won’t follow or anything. Well up to the task.
    Not a squeak online.

    Speaking of twitter will follow you from an account this week for Eurovision.

    And must say looking forward to next week off and hopefully the run or good luck continues.
    As the weekend proved favourites are there to be beaten but this favourite ticks allot of boxes already but I am not 100% convinced and Eurovision not Simon.
    I think careful until semis.

    Thanks to all for great comments and guidance through BGT. Always a joy to have time to visit Sofabet.

    • Andrew

      Always a joy to hear from you in the comments, Donald. Your XF info last year obviously came from someone who knew whereof they spoke – very much looking forward to deciphering whatever information you are able to post about the group this year, as cryptically as you have to! 🙂

  • eurovicious

    You’re absolutely right. I was wondering why Alesha and Simon (portmanteau name: Alemon) starting talking about animal cruelty, it seemed totally non-sequitur to me. Pudsey isn’t a rescue dog as far as I’m aware, so the whole issue of animal cruelty and the charity shoutout literally had nothing to do with the act and performance. I found it jarring. But you’ve hit the nail on the head: it’s a lamely tacked-on sob story that attempts to say precisely what you paraphrase: “a vote for Ash and Puds is a vote against cruelty to dogs”. Bleurgh.

    Agree: the lesson is to hedge, to trade, not to basketise all your eggses in a single act, and not to assume the act everyone says is going to win really is going to win…

    I don’t think Rogues would work on X Factor as they’d be limited to covering other people’s songs. After BGT it would seem like a step down.

  • lolhart

    I think Ronan Parke’s lack of post BGT success is largely down to him failing to secure a fan base after the show. He was too feminine and young to appeal to teen girl,and the mums may have voted for him during the show but wouldn’t necessarily run out and buy his album. The decision to make his first single a cover and one with lyrics jarring with a boy his age didn’t help matters. I’m sure the fix accusations didn’t help.. The public don’t mind being subtly manipulated, but they don’t like to think they are being taken for idiots.

    I have a feeling if they decide to push a boy band on the X Factor this year, it will probably be of The Mend/Rogues variety. They won’t want a clean cut pop/rock outfit as One Direction have the monopoly on that market.

  • Noisy

    Question 2:
    Maybe the producers have realised it’s harder for groups to gain familiarity with the public than individual artists so they plan to bring one/both of them back for this autumn’s series of X Factor having given them a headstart in building a fan base during BGT.

  • Donald

    Hi Andrew, I came on to catch up on Eurovision, which is how I found this site last year and Daniel and Sofabet got over the line.

    It ticket allot of boxes but not until after semi’s, we had done the Hungary dance bit etc. but properly guided in it went so focus is BAKU.

    Now the cryptic stuff is going to be short lived, after quick hunt on twitter just now, looks like going to Liverpool 23rd May, auditions cancelled in home town this year.(Be beyond belief if that pans out)

    Household name for starters.

    Win loose or draw after that, back to BAKU.

    Can an EDM tune win Eurovision?

  • Nugget

    In my opinion Cowell was very aware that the show could not continue year on year as a talent show if every year a singer/dancer won. Knowing he had an opportunity with A&P to give BGT credibility, with an unusual act that had really caught the publics imagination was not something he wanted to miss. A&P can still make him money, so can J&C. But the important thing here is BGT reinventing iteslf as a different type of show that variety acts CAN succeed in

  • henna

    The reason Jonathan and Charlotte didn’t win was the song choice. It didn’t work well enough. We already knew how well they sang, after the semi final we decided both sang well and suited each other, so they needed a good song choice, something with a big bang at the end. And it wasn’t the case. I saw them on YT singing some Phantom of the Opera, I was sure they were saving that for the final, would have suited perfectly even story wise. I was surprised they choose a nice but mellow song. They won the semi final by such a large margin(even if it was a weaker one) and having the pimp slot there was no way for simon&friends to be sure they won’t win the whole thing. So I don’t think A&P were that much more favoured to win, they would have given the pimp slot to someone else rather than J&C if they wanted to make sure the dog will triumph.
    Anyways,it’s a great result for the format having variety among the winners.

    • Andrew

      Hi henna, Good point about the song choice, it did feel surprisingly underwhelming.

      Of course, if we assume J&C would take advice from the BGT producers about what they should sing, you could see the song choice as further evidence that A&P were more favoured.

  • Mark

    Just pointing out your error, in that the charity Simon Cowell mentioned is actually K-9 Angels (www.k-9angels.co.uk)

  • Chatterbox5200

    It would be interesting to see the volume of You Tube hits achieved by each of the winners/runners up, as this may have helped to identify which acts had worldwide interest, and the best opportunity for post-show career. It may have been felt that SuBo had a strong enough level of interest to succeed without having to win the show to help.

    There was a lot mentioned, both during the show and after, about the possibility of Pudsey going to Hollywood and potentially winning an Oscar. Given the level of interest that was generated earlier in the year by Uggy (the dog in The Artist), an Ashleigh & Pudsey win could have been seen as the ideal opportunity to launch this offensive, as well as ensuring that the show had a “variety” winner for the Royal Variety Performance as mentioned by Nugget above.

    I also don’t feel that the anti-Cowell movement can not be underestimated. With the level of coverage (and amount of pimping – including the pimp slot in the final) given to Jonathan & Charlotte, it would have been easy to interpret them as Plan A, thereby ensuring those that wanted Simon Cowell’s preferred act NOT to win would vote for Ashleigh & Pudsey.

    As for the advantage for the act that wins semi-final 1, I agree that they may have enjoyed a greater number of viewers/votes than other semi-finals and more opportunity for media coverage, but they also have four extra days to prepare the final. This would no doubt be advantageous for those acts that need to learn a new routine. Diversity, Spellbound and Ashleigh & Pudsey all featured in the first semi-final.

    • eurovicious

      I don’t think it’s an anti-Cowell thing (putting aside specific past campaigns, people who doesn’t like Cowell simply don’t watch or vote), more just underdog voting (literally) as often seen in these types of shows. Often when an act is overpimped, it’s perceived as safe, so people give their vote to acts they like who they feel are actually in need of it. This can result in surprise qualifiers/non-qualifiers and winners/losers.

      • Chatterbox5200

        I had intended to use the “underdog” pun, but resisted! LOL

        • Andrew

          No need to resist, Chatterbox, we like Sofabet to put the pun into punting! 🙂

          Good point about the Youtube hits and the extra time to rehearse. Will be interesting to see what, if anything, they do with Pudsey – do people really respond more to movies or advertising featuring a cute dog they’ve already heard of than a cute dog that’s new to them? I have no idea.

          I’m also, with eurovicious, slightly sceptical about there being much of an anti-Cowell movement. Clearly there have been times when they’ve whipped up a mischievous anti-Cowell vote in XF, when he claims to hate an act (Wagner, Jedward, McDonald Bros), but that wasn’t the case here.

        • eurovicious

          Never resist a good pun, Chatterbox – we’re here to put the fab into Sofabet ;). I love a good corny pun like Pudsey loves Ashleigh’s arse.

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