'X Factor' marks spot as TV3 cleans up


MEDIA & MARKETING:Station’s faith in talent contests and reality shows is proving a ratings winner

WITH ALL the hype about Mary Byrne, it’s no surprise that the juggernaut that is X Factor, broadcast on TV3, is crushing rival stations in the ratings. Among 15- to 44-year-old viewers, X Factoris garnering five times as many Saturday viewers as the alternative programmes on RTÉ, while the Sunday night X Factorresults show also garners half of this demographic for TV3.

Since September, the Nielsen figures include viewers who watch TV shows when they are broadcast, as well as those who record a programme and watch it later on the same day. According to Nielsen data for October, 49 per cent of adults are watching X Factoron TV3 on Saturday evenings, while 11 per cent are tuned to RTÉ 1 and 5 per cent are watching RTÉ 2.

TV3 can’t take any credit for this ratings success, as it buys in X Factor. But the strong weekend trend has been continuing into Monday nights with the Apprentice. This home-produced show has been grabbing 40 per cent of adult viewers in its time slot and has so spooked RTÉ programme chiefs that in recent weeks they were shuffling the announced schedule to stem the rot.

TV3 has signed X Factorfor another three years from UK production company Fremantle Media. The deal also includes the US version of X Factor, due on screen in 2011. In recent weeks, TV3 programme director Ben Frow has launched another home-grown assault on RTÉ’s crown jewel, the Late Late Show.

Take Me Outis an Irish version of an ITV dating game that features a young bachelor facing a row of girls. Under the game’s format, if the girl doesn’t like what she sees, she presses her buzzer and it’s lights out, bye-bye, no date.

Take Me Outwon’t expand your mind, but there is an audience for any sort of reality television. The show has claimed a 26 per cent audience share on Fridays for TV3 among 15- to 44-year-olds since it debuted on October 15th. The total audience is still small beer compared with Ryan Tubridy’s reach, but it strengthens TV3’s appeal to advertisers targeting younger consumers.

Frow says it has cost TV3 €600,000 to make 20 episodes of Take Me Out.It’s the most expensive show the station has ever made. TV3 originally aired the UK version last year and it did well enough to persuade Frow to make an Irish version.

“During the summer I was having a panic attack thinking we need something big, and I decided to spend every euro we had left in the programme budget making our own version of the show. The show costs €30,000 an episode and we air it about six times during the week. When I worked in Channel 4, the minimum price I paid for an hour of prime-time factual programming was €175,000.”

Frow works to a prime time programming budget of €3,500 per hour. “ X Factorexceeds that price based on a single hour, but because we get three showings of every X Factorprogramme, it comes within my budget. It’s a bit like cost per wear when you buy a designer jacket. I call it cost per air.”

While X Factorand the Apprenticeare drawing large audiences for TV3, the other benefit they bring to the channel is the halo effect. As Frow explains: “Part of my job is to use the big programmes to have a positive influence on the surrounding schedule. I am hoping that Take Me Out will become such a big programme that I can then move it all around the schedule and it will take an audience with it wherever I play it. I can’t be reliant on X Factorand the Apprentice. If Simon Cowell decided not to do the X Factorin Britain next year, then it might not happen at all.”

Frow says he is looking for someone who can produce a drama for TV3 that costs less than the €250,000 an hour that he has been quoted by production companies to date.

“Drama is frighteningly expensive. I’m not a drama expert so I don’t know why it costs so much. But I am hopeful that TV3 will have its own soap opera in the next couple of years. That is my aim and ambition. But I have to find the people who can make drama for us in the most cost-effective and efficient way.”