A simple answer to these questions is yes, on both counts. Large numbers of viewers across the UK tuned in to watch some great TV moments over the course of the last few months culminating in Little Mix being crowned the X Factor winners in front of 10,000 adoring X Factor fans at Wembley. The girl band will no doubt go on to achieve great things, as will runner-up Marcus Collins and probably a few of the other contestants.
But in comparison with previous years, which offered a degree of subtlety in the way viewers were duped into thinking they were just being entertained, this year’s show was explicit in its very blatant advertising of all things X Factor-related. As has been widely reported, the UK broadcasting regulator OFCOM has received complaints that the “established artists” that performed alongside the contestants were signed to Simon Cowell’s record company Syco, which is part of Syco Entertainment, a global joint venture between Cowell and Sony Music Entertainment. Syco TV co-produced the X Factor show.
It is fair to say that in previous years, earlier winners of the X Factor and runners up appeared on the latest show to promote new releases. Last year’s winner Matt Cardle was the guest star in one of the knock-out rounds as was Rebecca Ferguson, who came second. Both artists have new albums out and an appearance on the show is a simple way of promoting their releases to the audience that made them famous. Third placed in 2010, One Direction also appeared in a knock-out round as well as the final alongside JLS, who were runners-up in the 2008 series, coming second to Alexandra Burke. She replaced Kelly Rowland for one week earlier this year as a judge and mentor when the US star was ill. The runner-up in the 2009 series Olly Murs, who has a new album out, was the roving reporter interviewing the family and friends in the Wembley audience.
Harmless publicity? Maybe. But if you look a bit deeper, the level of promotion and back scratching on show becomes a little less palatable. Matt Cardle’s performance earlier in the series promoted a new single. But who was the single’s writer?, none other than Gary Barlow. Kelly Rowland performed on the show her new release, guaranteeing maximum publicity in the same way Cheryl Cole did during the 2009 series when she was a mentor and judge.
At the beginning of each program when the judges were announced, Tulisa Contostavlos did her trademark signature gesture, raising her arm to show a tattoo with the words “The Female Boss”. This just happens to be the name of her new perfume. OFCOM received a number of complaints and are investigating if the gesture broke any product placement rules. The complaints were made in November but the gesture was there for all to see in the final.
Criticisms of Leona Lewis (winner in 2007) appearing in this year’s final are justified as she is not promoting any album release. Similarly Westlife’s appearance drew similar criticism. It isn’t a coincidence that the group was originally co-managed by the X Factor judge and mentor Louis Walsh.
Supporters of the X Factor have pointed to the fact that a number of big name artists that appeared on the show were not signed to Syco or any other Sony imprint. Michael Buble, for example, was one. He is signed to Warner Music. However, on the same UK TV channel later this month is a Michael Buble Christmas special featuring a number of guest stars. Two of the names set to appear may be familiar to X Factor viewers – Gary Barlow and Kelly Rowland ring any bells?
It might be a little naïve not to expect cross promotion on a TV show with as much exposure as the X Factor. Producers will claim that it makes sense to choose artists to appear alongside the contestants that are well-known to X Factor viewers. But the level of nepotism on show this year turned what is a great entertainment format into something really quite ugly. All of the “extra” advertising will probably have washed over younger viewers that were caught up in the excitement of the program. In a way that makes the whole experience all the more unpleasant. Talent shows have been around for a long time and will continue to be popular for years to come. Let’s just hope that next year’s winner won’t be the marketing department at Syco Entertainment.
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