Friday 24 May 2019

Comment: Letting Louis go shows how hopelessly past its sell-by date X Factor is

Louis Walsh is leaving The X Factor. (Ian West/PA)
Louis Walsh is leaving The X Factor. (Ian West/PA)
Louis Walsh
Brian O'Reilly

Brian O'Reilly

Entering its 15th series, X Factor is well past middle age in TV terms and limping into the retirement home, a shadow of the entertainment show juggernaut it once was.

Last year's series of the show was the least-watched ever, with an average of just 6.5m tuning in weekly. Compare this to its peak in 2010 when well over 14m would tune in for their dose of musical reality show drama.

Those glory days are well behind it, and the show is in terminal - and irreversible - decline.

In the battle of Saturday night telly, X Factor has been running a distant second to BBC rival Strictly Come Dancing for many years.

While X Factor still enjoys considerable popularity on YouTube - where younger viewers catch up - its ability to attract the same age demographic for two televised shows every weekend is over.

The traditional younger audience it attracted during its boom period are no longer conditioned to sit through a two hour TV show live, when they can catch up in 15 minutes on YouTube on their own schedule almost ad-free.

X Factor has become a victim on two fronts - the changing viewing habits of its traditionally younger audience and its stale and repetitive format.

Not only will it struggle to ever recover those younger viewers, it now risks alienating those it has retained by losing one of its most proven performers. 

Look, Louis never set the world alight with his criticism. The height of his contribution tended to be "you look like a young Lenny Henry/George Michael/Whoever-you're-having-yourself."

His value was in his ability to wind up those around him, to say something controversial or off-colour and create a cringe-worthy but amazing TV moment.

Simon Cowell has always been the star judge on his TV shows - but he has always needed a foil with an ability to get under his skin to truly get the best from him. David Walliams has been successful in that role on Britain's Got Talent, but Louis invented the role on X Factor.

Britain's Got Talent has proven far more resilient at weathering an overall decline in linear TV viewership - but it has never faced the direct competition X Factor has in the form of Strictly.

X Factor producers will no doubt hire some young replacements in a desperate bid to attract younger viewers.

But that misses the fundamental point that the younger viewers they crave have largely shifted platform from linear TV viewing to an on-demand service.

Younger viewers are a one night stand - they want it on their terms, when they want it and with no commitment. Older viewers are far more likely to enter a committed relationship with a TV series.

Allowing Louis to leave has seriously damaged the show's ability to grab headlines - boosting its profile on social media with that younger audience.

The younger replacements will no doubt be very well versed in PR - and never say anything remotely controversial - or, well, interesting.

X Factor has one more contractually guaranteed series left in 2019 - maybe Louis Walsh is better to step off the sinking ship now rather than go down with it then.

Read more: 'I'm ready to leave' - Louis Walsh quits X Factor after 13 years

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