The Voice UK: what’s gone wrong?

Why are 2.5m fewer people watching the BBC1 talent show compared to a month ago? Jack Seale has some suggestions

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The Voice is still performing well for BBC1: 8.2 million viewers saw it on Saturday according to overnight figures, which isn’t bad for a show halfway through its first series. 

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But it’s lost some momentum over the past two weeks, since the start of the live shows, and the brief moment when it was out-performing Britain’s Got Talent feels like a long time ago. With ITV1+1 included, BGT had 10.1 million fans last weekend.

More important than the battle with Simon Cowell is that, when you might expect a show to be picking up viewers, The Voice is losing them: 10.7 million people were watching when the blind auditions came to a conclusion.

So what’s wrong with The Voice? Where have those 2.5 million people gone? Here are five possible problems, plus what can be done…

PROBLEM: BAD SCHEDULING
The Voice can’t be helped by BBC1’s strange scheduling. Not the slot, particularly – for every busy person who isn’t ready to start watching in the early evening, there’s probably another, younger viewer who can’t stay up to see the end of Britain’s Got Talent. But the first two live shows came on after ropey old repeats of the sitcom My Family, which meant only around 2m people were already sitting in front of BBC1 when The Voice came on.


SOLUTION: A BIG FAMILY FILM

BBC1 doesn’t have a TV Burp to act as a warm-up, so original programming isn’t the answer. This Saturday they’ve got the right idea with the family movie Madagascar playing from 4.45pm until The Voice’s even earlier start time of 6.10pm, but Madagascar is hardly a classic.


PROBLEM: BAD CONTESTANTS

The Voice seems to have got away with its insistence that there are no poor contestants and everyone on it is of a high standard. They’re not: every week there are several window-threateningly atonal strugglers. That’s not a problem in itself, but it is if you don’t acknowledge it.


SOLUTION: BE FRANK

Initially it was expected that, after the first two live shows when only two coaches lost an act, we’d see everyone competing together, with four bits of chaff weeded out every weekend. That’s not happening: this Saturday we’re back to just Team Tom and Team Will. So The Voice needs to get tough. The test last Saturday was Ruth Ann St Luce, who was nowhere near the required standard. Not only was there a hilarious moment where Danny O’Donoghue reacted to a particularly awful bit as if it was really good, but the achingly constructive comments will have left a lot of viewers dissatisfied. If someone’s really bad then sorry, but they need telling.


PROBLEM: THE GIMMICKS HAVE GONE

The spinning chairs, the lack of out-and-out eccentrics, the acts picking their mentors, the judges filling their quotas and not being able to go back and change, the battle rounds with two singers performing against each other in a boxing ring: at the start, The Voice had a host of gimmicks to distinguish it from ITV1 shows. Now it’s just another live show with people singing and the public voting.


SOLUTION: HOPE THE VIEWERS PICK A TEAM

There’s one gimmick left: the coaches all lose their acts at the same rate. Do viewers care enough about keeping all the teams in play? Or will they be annoyed when some acts (hint: Team Danny) stay in for longer than they deserve to?


PROBLEM: WOBBLY JUDGES

The Voice gives its coaches plenty of time to express themselves in comments, but sometimes you can feel the oxygen draining out of the room as they flail around repeating the same catchphrases (“Dope”, “Made the song your own” etc). Tom Jones in particular rarely seems to have any strong feelings about anything, and Jessie J has twice resorted to complaining about dancers and staging, which must have had the producers’ heads in their hands.


SOLUTION: COACH THE COACHES

Much as it might be against The Voice’s oh-so-authentic ethos, prepping the judges with a few lines so that Tom has something to say and everyone stops sounding like 1990s rappers might get things moving. Holly Willoughby has admittedly stopped asking the coaches dead-end yes/no questions, but her chats with the panel still feel toe-curlingly tense.


PROBLEM: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE

We’re constantly reminded how amazing the show we’re watching is, for us and the contestants: they feel proud and validated, it’s amazing to work with the judges, the judges are proud of them, everyone’s proud of being on The Voice. Barf. And there’s too much pious emphasis on technical ability: The Voice is worse than any other talent show when it comes to contestants singing millions of wibbly notes and blasting out big finishes.


SOLUTION: HAVE SOME FUN

The X Factor might be too far the other way – it tends to introduce every act on the live shows by implying that they hate the song they’ve been given and will mess it up spectacularly – but perhaps a middle ground can be found where something fun or exciting happens. And banning the judges from talking about licks, runs and legatos might help dampen down the vocal gymnastics: most of the time, especially with the duff contestants, all these things are code for unlistenable.

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