Britain’s Got Talent starts its week of live semi-finals on Sunday, and it’s a brave punter who’d bet on them before seeing the running order. We now have four years of data with nine-act semi-finals (i.e. 20 data points for each running order position). Here’s the average percentage of the vote achieved from each slot:(For the benefit of new readers, we assume this is part basic human psychology, part producer manipulation. That is, all else being equal, it helps to go on late due to the recency effect; but all else isn’t equal, because producers are therefore tempted to give late slots to the acts they want to pimp into the final.)
However, producers know they need to mix things up a bit – sometimes they have to put a pimped act on early, and no-hopers on late. For a more nuanced picture, here’s the vote distribution from each of the nine slots:
Last year’s semi-finals seemed to have been particularly influenced by the perceived need to mix things up a bit. In the first semi-final, producers put overall favourite Côr Glanaethwy on 5th, and in the second semi-final they put eventual winner Jules & Matisse on 2nd. Across those two days, most unusually, five of the six top-three acts performed between 1st and 5th.
Then it was as if producers thought “okay, that should stop those Sofabet discussions about the running order getting any wider traction, we can safely resume normal service now”. So they did: Wednesday’s semi was won from 9th, Thursday’s from 8th (with 9th finishing third), and Friday’s from 9th (with 8th finishing third). Will they feel the need to do something similar this year, or will it be normal service from the get-go?
The overall consensus in the Sofabet comments last year was that producers had dialled down the manipulation, and seemed more concerned with putting on a decent show. The markets had expected the Welsh choir Côr Glanaethwy to be pushed to the win; as it happened, the pimp slot in the final – and the win – went to Jules & Matisse (or, as it turned out, Jules & Another Dog That Looked Like Matisse).
Opinion was mixed in the Sofabet comments last year about whether Côr Glanaethwy were never, in fact, producers’ Plan A, or they were initially Plan A but producers had second thoughts after seeing the semi vote totals. See our post-mortem of last year’s voting statistics for an attempt to reverse-engineer, with hindsight, what producers might have been thinking.
Will we again see an apparently more relaxed approach to who wins it this year? Or will we see a repeat of the scorched-earth manipulation-fest that subsequently secured the X Factor for Louisa Johnson?
For the outright market, as the week unfolds, it’s also worth bearing in mind the pattern to which semi the eventual winners tend to come from. Here’s which semi the winner, second and third came from the eight years we’ve had five semi-finals:
2015: 2, 3, 1
2014: 1, 3, 4
2013: 5, 1, 2
2012: 1, 2, 1
2011: 4, 1, 2
2010: 1, 4, 5
2009: 1, 4, 1
2008: 3, 1, 2
Four of the eight winners have come from the first semi of the week (it would have been five had Jai McDowell not upset Ronan Parke in 2011), and the first semi’s winner has never failed to place in the final – indeed, twice both qualifiers from the first semi made the podium. However, last year winning the first semi didn’t do Côr Glanaethwy much good.
The BGT semi-finals are usually fun for connoisseurs of over-the-top pimpings and ruthless hatchet jobs. As ever, do let us know below what you’re making of them as the week unfolds.