X Factor exodus? Simon Cowell’s singing contest attracts lowest opening night audience since 2006

Series nine of the talent show down 2.7 million viewers on its 2011 debut programme

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Despite all the hype, and a brand new judge in the shape of Nicole Scherzinger,, The X Factor’s ninth series got off to a rather disappointing start on Saturday evening, attracting  “only” 8.1m viewers and a 39.4% audience share on ITV1 and HD – which is the lowest launch night rating the show has achieved since 2006.

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While the returning talent contest predictably dominated everything else in its wake over the weekend, its first episode pulled in 2.7m fewer viewers than last year’s debut programme. And while the show hit a peak of 9.2m viewers, even that number was lower than the 2011 opener’s average audience of 10.8m people.

ITV blamed Saturday’s heat-wave for the decline in viewership, with a spokesperson for the broadcaster saying: “The X Factor launched on the hottest day of the year and its audience was still over double that of the next nearest programme.

“We have a great series ahead, with some fantastic talent this year that viewers can look forward to.”

The fact that the show was preceded by the return of Simon Cowell’s revamped less-than-loved game show Red or Black? can’t have helped its fortunes either.  The Ant and Dec-fronted guessing game debuted to an audience of 3.06m viewers (18.3%), which is about the sort of subdued business it was doing at the end of its controversial first run in 2011, and therefore didn’t offer The X Factor much of an inherited audience.

Richard Holloway, The X Factor’s executive producer, shrugged off the apparent ratings slump, stating: “We’re still the number one show on television. Is there anything to complain about? Not really.”

Earlier this year, at the launch of Britain’s Got Talent, Cowell said that he’d rather his shows burn out than fade away, and hinted that Syco had something else in the pipeline to replace The X Factor should the show lose favour with the public.

”I’d rather fall off the cliff on numbers than deteriorate slowly.” said the Syco boss.  “We have something in development which could replace The X Factor.”

Of course we musn’t get ahead of ourselves, The X Factor has been “finished” many times before.  The weather will have played its part in this ratings drop, and the press take every chance they can to kick a big show when it’s down. 

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However, if this time it isn’t just a blip and the people have finally begun to grow tired of the big X, you can rest assured, if there’s a new show on ITV1 next autumn, it’ll probably still be from the stable of Simon Cowell…