The clash between The Voice UK on BBC1 and Britain's Got Talent on ITV1 this Saturday night may only last for 20 minutes, but the men behind each talent contest aren't letting their animosity fade away: BBC1 controller Danny Cohen and Britain's Got Talent judge/producer Simon Cowell have waged a war of words as each defended their show.
Launching the new series of Britain's Got Talent yesterday, Cowell said the BBC were indulging in a "silly rivalry" by introducing The Voice as a competitor to both BGT, which normally airs at around this time of year, and The X Factor, which has a similar format.
"You mess around with the schedule and it affects the viewers – when you go head to head, that to me is silly rivalry," said Cowell, who said he would tune in to The Voice UK but "only about five minutes of it – not the whole thing".
"Of course I love competition," Cowell added, "but if you ask do we need another singing talent show I would query whether you do or not. In my opinion they don't like the fact The X Factor is successful. They have every right to compete with us and we have every right to arm ourselves so we are in a good place to beat them. The shows go out at the same time, may the best one win."
Responding to the BBC's claim that The Voice UK will feature more genuine talent than either ITV1 show, Cowell was defiant: "I am going to back my talent against theirs this year, that's for sure."
This morning, BBC1 controller Danny Cohen – who has invested much of his reputation as well as a lot of licence-payers' money in buying up the Voice format – hit back.
“I see it a different way," he said, replying directly to Cowell's opinion that viewers do not need another singing talent show. "You wouldn’t stop doing quizzes and crime drama - it’s not about overdoing a genre, it’s about how you make them distinctive and fresh.”
Talking to TV industry magazine Broadcast, Cohen said he would not be comparing The Voice UK's ratings to the latest figures scored by Britain's Got Talent, The X Factor or even BBC1's hit Saturday-night show Strictly Come Dancing.
“I’m conscious that Strictly launched with 4.9m viewers, The X Factor 5m and Britain’s Got Talent around the same," he said. "I’m not going to put a number on what we see as success for The Voice."
Cohen also underlined what he sees as The Voice UK's trump card against Cowell's shows – the focus on talent rather than gawping at oddball contestants. The BBC show will be more “warm-hearted”, he said. "You don’t get on this show unless you’re a good singer.”
The BBC1 boss defended himself from criticism of his decision to spend so much money – thought to be between £20m and £30m – on The Voice UK, rather than devising an original format.
Cohen cited The Apprentice – which, like The Voice, was acquired having been a hit in the US – as a precedent, and said: “I don’t think we should be so myopic that when a great format comes along we close the door because we have every single answer here in the UK. That’s not in the interest of licence-fee payers.”