“A slightly irritated congrats to Danny and the BBC,” tweeted Simon Cowell this Sunday after it emerged that The Voice had beaten Britain’s Got Talent in the ratings for the first time.
9.5 million watched the third episode of The Voice, a number that has grown from 8.4m in week one. Conversely, BGT’s audience was down from the previous week.
BBC1 controller Danny Cohen surely couldn’t have dreamt of such huge numbers for the bought-in format – thought to have cost him £20-30m at a time when the Beeb is having to make swingeing cuts elsewhere. At the press launch for The Voice, Cohen was careful to manage expectations around the show, tempering his “great excitement” by reminding everyone that “we’ll have to wait for it to grow – these shows build, just like X Factor and Strictly did”.
This is true. Talent shows do grow – but not usually from such huge beginnings. That’s why Simon Cowell and ITV might be starting to sweat.
On 4 September 2004 at 7:35pm, a television giant was born: The X Factor aired on ITV for the first time. Five-and-a-quarter million viewers tuned in to check out the new format, a number that grew to 6.5m in week two and over 7m by week three. By the time the final was shown in December, The X Factor had nearly 10m viewers, almost double what it had started with.
Similarly, Strictly Come Dancing’s audience grew fast – in fact, it more than doubled during the first series. It moved from 4.6m viewers for the first episode ever in May 2004, to 9.3m for the finale of its inaugural run.
So if The X Factor and Strictly are anything to go by, The Voice could double its audience in series one: the winner might be crowned in front of 16m people. The talent-show market has become much more saturated since The X Factor and Strictly started, which might mean The Voice won’t grow quite as fast as they did – but the omens are good, and it’s doing extremely good business already.
What’s more, the BBC has committed to at least two series – and history suggests that once a talent show has been successful and is allowed to bed in, it gets even bigger. Britain’s Got Talent debuted with 5.2m viewers in June 2007; last year nearly 13m people watched the final. The X Factor drew nearly 17m viewers for the 2011 climax.
Only time will tell if Danny Cohen’s big BBC gamble continues to pay off – but one thing’s for sure. Simon Cowell and ITV will be keeping close tabs on The Voice.