The Voice 2013: Is a new format enough to make viewers care?

The Voice UK is back - but can changing the show's format win back millions of viewers?

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The BBC took a £22 million gamble when it launched Saturday-night singing contest The Voice UK a year ago – a gamble yet to pay off. Once the show’s unique gimmick – those spinning coaches’ chairs – had come and gone, the British public started to lose interest. As a result, The Voice UK’s progression in the ratings was, like the judges in those audition rounds, back-to-front. The Voice UK’s ratings fell, from 11.9 million viewers early on to just 5.2 million during the live shows.

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That ratings drop, combined with a live tour being cancelled due to poor ticket sales and the debut single by the winner, Leanne Mitchell, charting at a disappointing number 45 would, under normal circumstances, likely have put paid to another series. But in order to secure The Voice (which was already a huge hit internationally) BBC1 controller Danny Cohen had to sign a two-year deal. There had to be another series – the question was, what form would it take?

The Voice’s creator, fabled Dutch TV exec John de Mol, recognised that the format needed tweaking, and convened a two-day conference last summer for 20 of The Voice’s broadcasters to share ideas for improvement. As a result, series two will have more of the popular audition shows and fewer (just three) of the lacklustre live shows. Then there is the addition of (pre-recorded) “knockout” rounds and during the “battle” rounds, each judge will also “steal” a contestant that a fellow judge has eliminated.

But will these new whistles and bells fix The Voice UK’s biggest problem: getting viewers to care who wins? Although everyone remembers the show, especially the judges Will.i.am, Jessie J, Tom Jones and Danny O’Donoghue spinning around in their seats, the contestants were forgettable. Mark Linsey, the BBC’s head of entertainment commissioning, had an excruciating moment at last summer’s Edinburgh Television Festival. On stage in a packed auditorium, Linsey couldn’t remember the winner’s surname – even though Mitchell had won the contest just months earlier.

Unlike last year, when Simon Cowell brought Britain’s Got Talent forward to debut on the same night as The Voice UK, the ITV show will start in its regular slot in mid-April, leaving series two of The Voice UK to compete with Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and The Cube. It is yet to be confirmed whether the shows will go head to head for the live finals, but what we can be sure of is that after this series, it will be decision time for The Voice UK itself. Has the BBC backed a winner?

Only you can decide.

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The Voice UK returns on Saturday 30 April at 7:00pm on BBC1