‘X Factor’ Is a Hit Overseas — Why Not in the U.S.?

X Factor

Fox singing competition continues to slide in ratings as the net gears up for a critical launch of aging 'American Idol'

This morning, a press release sailed into journos’ mailboxes with a subject line that read in all caps: “The X Factor Continues to Thrive Across the World” (caps left out of this article’s text for purely aesthetic purposes).

What the email should have had, in addition to this enthusiastic proclamation, was an asterisk along with the following footnote at the bottom of the message:

*Well, except for in the U.S.

First, the good news for the format, which hails from Simon Cowell and FremantleMedia: The 9-year-old franchise is now produced in 45 countries, including recent launches in Israel, Indonesia and Portugal. In Israel, “The X Factor” can log as high as a 45% audience share, beating out fellow singing competition show “Rising Star” (which was recently greenlit in the States by ABC).

“The X Factor” continues to rank as one of the top shows in Denmark, Hungary and Ukraine, and new commissions have been ordered by channels in Vietnam; Okinawa, Japan; Serbia; and Azerbaijan.

Where does Fox’s Stateside version of “X Factor” fit into the mix? As far as this Fremantle press release goes, it fits into the last paragraph, in the third to last sentence.

“In the U.S., the show is consistently the most digitally engaged show in broadcast TV after sport, and ‘The X Factor USA’s’ YouTube channel is one of the largest in the world with over 1 billion viewers,” the release read.

And that, my friends, is that, when it comes to “The X Factor USA’s” presence in a press release citing its global popularity.

That figure regarding “The X Factor USA’s” YouTube presence appears to be a bit of overstatement, as the channel ranks well behind Machinima, RihannaVEVO, JustinBieberVEVO, Smosh, IGNentertainment and dozens of other YouTube channels when it comes to views. What’s more, in terms of “digital engagement” — a phrase that seems to have some semantic issues in the press release — “The X Factor USA” was beat out last week on Twitter by shows including “The Walking Dead,” “The Voice,” “American Horror Story” and “Scandal.”

On a recent conference call with biz analysts, Chase Carey, COO of 21st Century Fox, called the Stateside version of “X Factor” “disappointing to date.” When Cowell ankled Fox’s “American Idol” and rolled out “The X Factor USA” in 2011, the program — with serious overseas success, something every network loves to have for peace of mind before a launch — was expected to be the energetic new kid on the block, a format to help drive viewers (and advertisers) to Fox in the fall, when “Idol” was in between seasons.

The understanding also seemed to be that Fox would be growing a new glossy singing competition to replace “Idol” when the aging program eventually petered out.

“X Factor,” however, failed to established itself as the new tentpole reality show on the Big Four. Its format (and judges’ faces) practically mirrored those of “Idol,” and it launched on Fox the same year that “The Voice” — with its unique spinning-chair element — bowed on NBC, which brought a fresh and competitive take on the singing competition genre.

Now in its third run on Fox, “The X Factor” continues to slide in ratings: Airing on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the program is averaging around 6 million viewers, a significant dropoff from season one’s average of about 12 million viewers. Pepsi and General Motors’ Chevrolet ditched the show this fall as advertisers (with Honda and Procter & Gamble subbing in).

As for “X Factor’s” digital accolades, an on-screen gaffe earlier this month led to contestants having to perform their songs again during the following broadcast, and American viewers to recast their live votes online, an awkward fumble by the program.

It’s been a rough run for “X Factor” on Fox, as Cowell and network brass have readily admitted. The most significant issue with the show? It struggles to stand out among the rest of the singing competitions on television — “Idol,” “The Voice,” a bevy of cable programs and, soon, ABC’s “Rising Star.”

Fox and “Idol” producers say the focus of “Idol” in its upcoming 13th season needs to be on the aspiring singers, not the judges, after a tumultuous season 12 with Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey led to more tabloid headlines than upticks in ratings. “X Factor,” unfortunately, does not have that kind of luxury. Its format, so similar to “Idol’s,” must be buoyed by big names at the judging table in order for it to stand out in the pack. Demi Lovato and Britney Spears helped add a little pizazz, but the buzz was short-lived and did not translate to a significant bump in viewership — in fact, numbers continued to dip.

When news broke in May that Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio would be the latest musical artists to grace the “X Factor” lineup, another nail seemed to be banged into the coffin: While both women are talented and have seen their share of showbiz success, they simply do not have the pop culture resonance and popularity needed to draw fresh viewers to “X Factor.” Mark Burnett, never shy to discuss “The Voice’s” success on NBC, does have a point regarding the relevance of “Voice” coaches Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and others: In America, they are all are still producing chart-topping hits, thereby elevating the notoriety of the show.

“X Factor’s” success in many other countries is due, at least in part, to the fact that there simply aren’t as many shows to watch on TV. The kind of audience share that “X Factor” is nabbing in a country like Israel is akin to what the Super Bowl is driving in the States. In the U.S., where the phrase “viewer fatigue” creates its own kind of meta-fatigue, choice is endless, leaving even successful international formats liable to fall through the lineup cracks and be forgotten by viewers.

What is Fox to do? There are rumblings in the unscripted biz that “X Factor” may not see a fourth season. It would be wise for Fox to cut its losses with the format and end it now; such a decisiion may fall into the hands of the net’s newly hired alternative chief, Simon Andreae. At this point, it would be smarter to funnel marketing and brainpower resources into keeping “Idol” afloat for as long as possible, instead of spreading them thin across two almost identical shows, one of which is showing no signs of making strides with American auds in the crowded marketplace.

One could argue that the show is now a utility player on Fox’s lineup, drawing decent eyes and ad dollars, but more niche shows like “MasterChef” are pulling similar viewership numbers at this point without watering down the marketing power of a bigger show like “Idol.”

The notion of a glossy competition program on the Big Four having such a short-lived run feels strange. We are used to shows like “Survivor,” “Idol,” “Big Brother,” “Dancing with the Stars” and others becoming mainstays on our lineups, and in truth, have yet to see a major reality show on the Big Four reach its closure.

When it comes to “X Factor,” though, it doesn’t matter how much a press release touts its international success — the format has been lost in translation when it comes to Stateside auds. While the language of the Cowell-created show may resound in foreign countries, it doesn’t speak to viewers on Fox, as more TV fans enjoy younger entries like “The Voice,” or head to cable for docu-comedies like “Duck Dynasty.” Thriving overseas but diving in the U.S., it may be time for Fox to silence “X Factor” for good.

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  1. Jacques Strappe says:

    Oh god, please make these singing competition shows go away–all of them. It is nothing short of sad when nearly all of the fan chatter about these show centers around the judges…being too mean, too spacey, too nice, too whatever. It’s almost never about the competitors. Other than a few early American Idol successes, the winners of all these competitions fade into obscurity while headlining for shopping mall and car dealer openings..And even tall red vinyl swivel chairs can’t distract viewers forever from the cheese before them. Why on earth would ABC launch the American version of Rising Star with both FOX show fading quickly?

    At least Dancing With Stars understands it is awarding a meaningless, cheesy mirror ball that won’t alter the trajectory (down or up) of any D list celebrity career.

    • Karen says:

      Actually recent American Idol winners have been successful, even years after they won. They are still making records and touring, and having careers in music. I agree the past few years have become too much about the judges, but hope that changes soon.

  2. 1rtv says:

    The American Idol format does work better except for their having a age limit however, X Factor is more of a competition than it being a near scandal making program as it has been in the past.

    • 1rtv says:

      Simon has a better format though. The rest of the world can see his methodology as so it will stay on TV for another decade. America is odd at times and hateful for no reason. There could be something to that effect as well in the ratings drop.

      There’s managing money to be made in all age categories and when you limit a show to some age, let’s say 25 for example, you are indicating that you are leaning more toward making the program a TV show about a singing contest rather than a Singing Contest that is on TV.

      If you get my meaning.

    • 1rtv says:

      I meant to write ” . . . program as American Idol has been in the . . .”

  3. Karen says:

    I think the American Idol format simply works better in the US, and that’s why it has been much more successful here than in other countries, even in the UK. The US audience tends to like contestants that know what type of singer they are, and can pick their own songs and arrangements to show this. With the X Factor, usually the mentor picks the song and production, which is usually OTT. The Voice is similar, but I think the coaches make better choices, and they allow them to be who they are as artists.

  4. Christopher says:

    Before this season of the X Factor, I hadn’t watched a singing competition since season two of American Idol. I hate reality television (generally), but in interviews prior to the launch of X factor season three, Simon Cowell seemed rather desperate. I decided to give at least the auditions a chance. While the produced segments are hokey drivel, I was pleasantly surprised at how positive the show was. Unlike American Idol, they tend to focus on the good rather than the bad. Sure, they showed some really terrible acts, but overall the focus was overwhelmingly on the glut of good acts they had auditioning. Each of the judges has their faults, but they also each have their strengths and there is a good rapport between the four of them. It makes me smile week to week. Now, in the home stretch, I am genuinely engaged and care about several of the finalists.
    Are there better singing competitions out there on television? Maybe. I’m watching X Factor, though. It sounds as if there might not be another opportunity to watch after this season, so enjoy it while you can.

  5. David says:

    Bring back the Swan, but this time do it on celebrity’s faces

  6. djgabriro says:

    I do not know the situation in other countries, but in Italy the program is considered mostly as a showcase oh human embarrassment and a display of artistic despair. While there are a few diamond points of amazing skillfulness, most of the entertainment that the audience gets comes from ridiculing the people who go on to the stage for reasons that are far away from art, sometimes reaching the lowest points of human misery.

    These is little “X Factor” in such a program, here.

  7. Alex says:

    Robert was SO right. X-Factor and to a lesser degree American Idol is filled with contestants that are cookie cutter. X-Factor is obviously geared towards teenage girls in its production and the singers. They’re all young and generic in a Disney way. The Voice, at least in the first few rounds offer much more variety in styles of singers and ages. I love seeing older artist get a 2nd chance, people who’ve actually payed their dues. The experience is visually noticeable. This season in particular has 5 or 6 contestants that could legitimately win it just based on their talent. Sure image plays into it but maybe 1/4 as much as X-Factor and Idol.

  8. Joshua says:

    Simon isnt as honest as he used to be in American Idol. N we like to watch the growth of a contestant to stardom. If they’re not growing nor improving. There’s no point. The contestants aren’t the problem nor the way if the show. Its the judges!!!!!!

  9. Joshua says:

    The problem is..unlike past seasons, the judges were honest especially LA Reid. Honesty helped the contestant pushed harder to work n put up a great performance the next week. This year, the judges aren’t being honest n fair when it comes to judging. The performance was weak but the judges keeps on praising. Therefore no interesting or suprising comebacks from contestant, making the show boring. The show becomes too predictable. We can predict what the judges will say. Every performance, they’ll say : I’m a fan, I love it, great performance, best performance, i’n proud of u. Despite they put a weak performance. Exect kelly who gives constructive criticism sometimes. Unlike other versions like the UK n Aus, the judges actually critic n giv advice to the contestants like gary barlow, nicole, ronan keating, danni n redfoo. Therefore the contestants in the show will improve week after week. When simon said the show was to male stars n blamed other judges giving bad comments to Restless Road, it’s true. IT IS WHY U HAVE JUDGES TO GIV CRITICISM TO IMPROVE CONTESTANTS N MAKE STARS. DUH. The x factor usa judges r just not honest n hardly giving advice to improve the contestsnts. No one watches anymore probably cause this. I dont cause of this.

  10. Shelly says:

    The problem…Demi Lavoto. She’s egotistical, and annoying. They should have kept Paula Abdul.

    • that’s a fail Shelly lol wow I ll agree I think she is trying to be a lil “harder” this year but the chic is awesome….I don’t really see that any of the judges are really that annoying. You gotta remember in the end its a competition for the judges as well….yea I love the show…

      • yes I agree Paula Abdul was the best judge on x factor. she brought a lot of attribute to the show. Such as Glamour, talent,class,chemistry, excitement,professionalism,experience,you name it she had it. I think x factor should have kept the first judges. I liked Nicole also.they where great and they made the highest rating for A factor. Please bring back paula and maybe Nicole. Please don’t cancel until you try my suggestion. You need another afro American man .La reed was good also.

  11. Michael Co says:

    Cowell oversold the show making it virtually impossible to succeed. It was never going to get the ridiculous numbers he predicted. He brought virtually nothing new to the table and people recognized that. “Idol” was already losing interest and viewers so people found little reason to invest in what many considered a poor copy.

    • Totally agree. The prize of a $5 million recording contract seemed rather desperate. Not to mention the winner of that recording contract had to wait two years before she could release her long-awaited debut album, which going by her previous releases, is likely to be at most very tepidly received.

  12. TRM says:

    The talent is lacking but good enough. The judges, mainly Demi & Kelly are irritating to the point that the show is hard to watch.

  13. The X-Factor in the USA won’t work because we are bombarded with this shit. “America’s Got Talent”, “American Idol”, “The Voice” the “X Factor”. America is to big and we don’t care about these shows to the extent that smaller countries do. America just doesn’t have the time and just doesn’t care. The judges have all sucked in America and the talent is less than. The talent in Australia this year far exceeded the UK or the shit here in the US for 2013. These shows in America are far more boring because they are far less personal.

  14. Robert Winniford says:

    Next to THE VOICE, X-FACTOR looks like amateur hour on the Disney Channel. THAT’S the problem. The singers they attract are HORRIBLE compared to the dozens (literally) of talented musicians The Voice attracts. When your “older” category is anyone 25 or older, you’re looking for trouble. Nearly half of the singers in the top 10 (last night) were off pitch. Why can’t X-Factor attract more serious talent? The format itself is one of the key problems.

  15. TravelGal says:

    I saw the show when visiting Scotland and really liked it. But for some reason I can’t connect with the show in the US. Perhaps because they have mediocre talent that they rave about. I also don’t like the way they bring out the judges; as if they are gods.

    I like Simon, but can’t watch this show. I still watch American Idol (haven’t missed an episode) and enjoy The Voice.

  16. Yirmin says:

    Well for one thing, the judges on the X Factor in the US are a bunch of nobodies… I flipped over to it once with my kids. We all recognized Simon but none of us had a clue who the other folks were… That isn’t a good way to start a show like this. If the audience doesn’t know the performers who are unknowns they need to have someone they can latch onto and that is simply missing.

    Now add to that the MC was I think one of those Trashians girls, now its a has been from Saved by the Bell… They would have been better off picking a unknown for the spot as they did when American Idol started with Ryan before anyone knew who he was.

    Sadly in a landscape with more talent shows than you can shake a stick at the X factor just sits there with nothing to draw you in.

    • John says:

      I just watched the results on the X-Factor and the ending was as prejudice as you can have. You have three minority women judging poor Ted against Carlito. Give me a break. Demi, Paulina, and whatever the other’s name is was never going to vote Carlito off the show! Elvis would have been voted off by these three low grade judges. I would have picked Carlito myself, but Paulina’s long pause was sickening when she knew before they even performed who she was keeping. The talent is bad this season and the hatchet three chair challage is something that should stay over there! The show was good the way it started and should have stayed that way. Paulina should realize she’s not an actor and America could see right through her last minute act!

      • I absolutely love the show. I am gonna throw out another possibility here, I think its the network. Nobody I know watches fox that much, I know the ONLY time I watch the fox network is when I am watching the xfactor. I love Demi and Kelly both and despite the criticism these chics rawwk it. Demi is an up and coming Diva for sure. Paulina even tho I think she is awesome too Im not sure that she was a good choice just because we haven’t really been exposured to much of her music really How in the world you can say the talent was bad this season..whew man you need a reality check!! I believe that Paulina was being sincere all the way…tuff choices this year. John you need to take some happy pills dude….way too harsh bro….just sayin..

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