British television entertainment could be facing its biggest shake-up in decades.
BBC1 has already said goodbye to talent show The Voice – a political hot potato which was dragging it down in the eyes of Government in the crucial year of charter renewal.
Acting director of television Mark Linsey confirmed over the weekend that the BBC would not be keeping the format beyond 2016 after refusing to “pay inflated prices” for the show.
And the singing contest looks almost certain to be snapped up by ITV, where well-placed sources confirm that the broadcaster’s acquisition of the programme from format owners Talpa Productions is now a “virtual 100% certainty”.
According to one source close to the negotiations, ITV is poised to agree to pay around £15m a series, a hefty increase on the £12m estimated figure that the BBC is understood to have forked out for the show (neither parties will comment on the cash sums exchanged). But – and here’s the rub – ITV owns Talpa so is effectively moving one pot of money it owns into another.
But where does an ITV with The Voice leave Simon Cowell?
Cowell’s talent show juggernaut X Factor has been struggling in the ratings this year. It has trailed BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing, pulling in 3 million fewer people the Saturday before last with an overnight rating of just 5.6 million. And with one year left on his contract, what will he do with them? Will ITV be interested in it for 2017 and beyond?
Cowell’s company Syco negotiates deals on both X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent together – a ploy which could insulate them from individual attack. Usually, at least one of these show rides high, and at the moment Britain’s Got Talent has been a success while X Factor is comparatively struggling (although it is still a significant ratings and revenue driver for ITV).
One ITV source suggests that, while negotiations with Cowell have not yet even started, some within the network are keen to rest the show which could be even less popular next year. One possible solution, which sources say is being thought about at ITV, would be to air series every other year to freshen it up and reignite popular interest.
The X Factor’s executive producer Richard Holloway admitted as much in September when he said that series had a “finite lifespan” but as such a successful format, it could be rested and brought back.
And it is perhaps no coincidence that representatives from Syco recently held talks with senior Sky executives, although Cowell himself was not present, all parties confirm.
Sky sources claim that the broadcaster is “obviously interested in the future of these shows” with another executive at the pay-TV broadcaster saying that it would be “mad” not to think of signing them up. Another source said that “it was a general meeting which we have with all our independent suppliers”.
Syco declined to comment, but a source said: “We regularly talk to different broadcasters regarding new projects all over the world. After all, at this exact moment, we have more than 50 shows in production in various countries.”
But it seems perfectly possible that the prospect of moving X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent to Sky, which has large purse strings, was not at least mentioned at this meeting.
And one thing we can say about Cowell and Syco is that they are all expert negotiators. Dangling interest from Sky over the heads of ITV seems like a potentially smart negotiating ploy.
However, ITV sources insist that the music mogul’s two shows could still have a future on the channel and that it will only begin negotiating about a 2017 contract for X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent next year.
Well-placed sources stress that if ITV does buy The Voice then it will air in the slot it occupies on BBC1 – namely airing it in January in a month where ITV has struggled ever since the demise of Dancing on Ice.
And the other question is, when will ITV announce that it is buying The Voice?
One source suggests that a Voice/ITV deal could be announced as early as November 19, the date when ITV presents its wares to its most important advertisers with its “Upfronts” event – essentially touting for business over the coming year.
It would be a neat coup for the broadcaster to be able to present a deal on The Voice, the show that could rescue it in the dog days of January 2017.
But will it say it is resting Cowell? Or that The Voice will be elbowing out The X Factor to become its flagship autumn show? It’s certainly a possibility…