The lovely team at Sofabet asked if I fancied writing a couple of bits and pieces this year for the site. Why not, let’s share the love.
As ever, a couple of disclaimers – I know nothing and this is just a half baked theory of an article. Feel free to rip it to pieces in the comments! I should also add that, on this occasion, I have put my money where my mouth is.
It’s just after 8pm. 20th December 2003, a new UK record has been broken. 10.26 million votes have been cast for the winner of Pop Idol. The most text votes a UK TV show has ever had in history. Interactivity records are being smashed.
Ant screams the name MICHELLE. A livid Pete Waterman can barely disguise his disgust on screen and quits shortly after. His incredulity was reasonable. In the months that followed, Michelle McManus had a huge number one single, her album went to number 3 and her second single limped in at #16 before she was dropped.
I was in Perthshire six years later and switched on a pretty ropey “This Morning” style show on STV at 5pm. Who was hosting it? She’s still a bit of a celeb up in Scotland, in the last fortnight Michelle’s attended the Scottish BAFTA’s, turned on Christmas Lights in Glasgow and performed at charity bashes. Number of top ten hits to date in any country…? One.
McManus’ win, with over 6.1 million votes, was the first warning bell for producers keen to make genuine recording stars out of the winners.
Before the planet’s greatest TV blogging sensation, Betsfactor (my noisy, hyperbolic, tongue in cheek X Factor betting blog), started last year, some friends asked me for a tip. Who’s going to win the X Factor 2011? Luckily Betsfactor hadn’t started; I was fairly convinced that a woman with a superb voice, Jade Richards, was going to win in 2011. “7-1 favourite that’s great value” I professed. She crashed out at judges houses, and failed to make it through bootcamp this year.
The last two years have seen some extremely strong girls get through, but the producers are normally keen to get people from regions of the UK into the mix, so why was Jade ditched, when they could have had a Scottish contestant?
It was all a bit “once bitten”, “Michelle McManus” to me. Don’t create a monster you can’t slay.
Last year, despite all the damage I believe they inflicted on the format, the producers appeared ruthless and very efficient with their kills. If you were marked, you were gone. I suspect this maybe made them a little over confident and willing to take more risks this year. As I said last time, I wonder if the X Factor judges screwed up by letting the viewers, hungry to get going with the interactivity, vote on contestants ranked by industry experts 13th – 16th best. Once punters start supporting their chosen “little rejected monster” they can’t emotionally switch their vote, until the monster disappears.
The producers probably felt they could easily label Christopher as cheesy, shove him in a red and black cocktail bar or a shiny suit and mow him down after a couple of weeks.
In the last six years, 50% of acts winning or coming runner up, have been from places with a very strong regional identity.
Let’s have a look at each 50%. If you were Syco, which portfolio would you pick?
Strong regional: Leon Jackson, Rhydian, Joe McElderry, Rebecca Ferguson, Marcus Collins, Ray Quinn.
Generic: Little Mix, Matt Cardle, Olly Murs, JLS, Alexandra Burke, Leona Lewis.
With a couple of exceptions, it’s quite staggering. You could argue that Londoners voted Leona/Alex and Essex Olly etc etc, but I’m talking about really strong regional identity here. In this case, Scousers, Geordies, The Scots and the Welsh.
Could it be argued that maybe some of these regional acts weren’t that great and were being voted through on something other than their superb musical talent? Can you name a Leon Jackson hit?
One of the UK’s most read regional papers is the Liverpool Echo, with a huge circulation for county the size of Merseyside. Clicking on the, albeit limited, comments on one of their stories about Maloney, you get “Learn a lesson tulisa ,,,,scousers get behind their own,,,,,,” another guy states he’s not a fan of the show, but all cowell suggests “the rest of the UK should vote in order that Maloney goes out then that will actually lead to me voting for him. I don’t like Snides”. A couple of comments on a newspaper website are far from proof that he’s going to win it, but this sentiment will be felt by some on Merseyside. A county that has had 3 contestants in the final two in the last six years.
In the last two weeks, the judges have made a complete dogs dinner of trying to nuke him. I’ve got some stuff on Betsfactor and plenty of remarks in the comments section here felt he looks bullied. Louis sniggering during his performance, Tulisa’s sulky face during his performances, the backgrounds looking ridiculous and crucially on two successive shows the judges have fallen over themselves to point out that the staging isn’t chosen by Christopher, nor themselves, but rather by shadowy people who never get mentioned. The producers try and help with appalling dancing, songs that aren’t that popular and plenty of drip dripping in VT’s that make him look slightly full of himself, but the judges screw it up and people get the impression that that nice lad Christopher needs their vote. When on stage, Christopher always looks humble and doesn’t react to the negativity which helps with the bullying feeling.
Christopher might even get lucky and a sort of “show Cowell who’s boss” social media campaign may emerge. Producers might not mind much, because JamJar will still get the record sales and they might get better viewing figures with a bit of controversy for the final. You don’t have to win it to make Cowell money. It damages the franchise to have all these winners that don’t go on to have success; but producers haven’t seemed to be too careful about protecting the brand recently.
Let’s turn to the Daily Star’s voting leaks. Traditionally they have been very accurate and the specific information from them suggests it’s likely to be correct. This isn’t some sort of story where they say “a source says”, or “Cowell’s worried”, this is a story where they make very specific points in very clear terms. The Sun also had stories suggesting that Christopher is topping the voting. Two different papers, both saying the same thing, and at no stage has he been in the bottom two.
This next half baked point is terrible for several reasons, firstly it’s just based on absolutely no knowledge or facts. Secondly, it’s unintentionally derogatory. I really, truly don’t mean it like that, but it’s something I’m just musing on. Thirdly, it’s quite similar to Daniel’s fantastic article on Monday, but who cares.
Maybe there’s a core and satellite of X Factor viewers. The CORE are people who stay in and watch TV often, people maybe on lower incomes who read the Daily Mirror, parents who stay in, OAPs who never do anything else on a Saturday apart from flick over to PricedropTV in the breaks, and Facebook obsessed single women who watch circa 40 hours a week of this stuff. There’s also a SATELLITE of more urbane, maybe 20-40’s, people with options on a Saturday night. They read the Sunday Times and the Mail Online app and are middle managers – they claim they started watching so they can “relate to the girls in the office”. The sort of people who have dinner parties and eat Harvest Crunch. These guys are only passive viewers and they LOVE James Arthur.
In a similar way, there are core and satellite voters. The core are the passionate fans who watch Olly on ITV2 and attend the X Factor tour each year. The satellite voters might vote occasionally, but for the novelty factor; almost so they have something to entertain their friends with on Monday – “I can’t believe I actually voted – but James Arthur was that good” sort of people.
Let’s make it even simpler. The Satellite are people who might have sex this weekend. The Core are people who almost certainly won’t.
This year, the ratings are down, say 2m. I reckon they’ve lost the satellite viewers and the satellite voters. James Arthur and Ella Henderson are more likely to appeal to satellite viewers and satellite voters. Christopher Maloney and Jahmene (the greyer vote as mentioned on Monday) appeal more to the core.
So, can the satellite voters save the X Factor from another embarrassing winner? I say embarrassing because history shows these sorts of regional winners tend to perform badly when it comes down to sales and second singles!
Last year, the satellites were forced to sit through four hours before we got to Jesy screaming. Half of them were confused to see Amelia Lily; they could have sworn she didn’t make it past judges houses. The audience figures, although good, were down and I suspect they will be down again this year, as the show’s peaked. The satellite viewers and voters, burnt last year from a very long winded, drawn out final, (with strange similarities to this article) might not turn out.
THE STAT FACTS
The key number for our monster hunch is 33.4%. To become a guaranteed finalist, Christopher needs 33.4% of the votes cast this weekend; if we assume each act gets 15% of the vote, it’s just 28%. If there’s no sing off, he needs just 25.1%.
Can he achieve this? Quite possibly. Will satellite voters turn out for the semi final? Probably not.
The leaks, the regional power, the support since the start, the core only watching and voting, the anti bullying sentiment and the fact that last week he must have polled a chunky enough number to steer clear of the bottom two, suggest to me the monster created and uncontrollable may roar into the final. If leaks are correct and he’s been top, he must have netted at the very very least 17% last week and 20% this week. The Sun claimed a few weeks back that one week he’d netted DOUBLE what other contestants had scored.
Let’s now look at the final. The problem for the producers is the way the final is run. They never reset the votes, they simply “freeze” them (maybe they will change this!). Once you have voted to win, your vote remains on the pile. No act, since figures were released, has ever managed to convert enough “second preference” votes after a third placed act is eliminated, to overturn a winner’s lead. This is only based on four years data, but if you start the show leading, you end the show winning. Indeed, other than 4% between Alex and JLS “Lead the semi and win the final” is also true.
To qualify for the final two, Christopher again needs 33.4% of the votes cast before the vote freeze. Can he do that…? Will the satellite voters be knocking around to shake things up a bit by this point?
Commenter EM mentioned Nate Silver the other day, Nate feels those who make predictions would do better when they nuance them and make people aware that they are talking in probabilities.
At the time of writing Christopher is 6-1 to win. A lot of us are comfortable taking a price and then hedging later to lock in profits.
Is Christopher going to win? Not sure.
Is there really only a 14% chance of Christopher winning the show?