The X Factor 2014 has not started yet, but the contest’s publicity machine is already warming up.
Not that Simon Cowell et al ever really went away. In February, the world welcomed the first Cowell progeny. Then, in July, Cheryl Cole married her boyfriend of three months, Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini – a man once described in a New York Times article on "Eurotrash" as an "international playboy".
Media buyers have been told brands could advertise in the first episode on Saturday 30 August, followed by a second show the next day. There will also be instalments on Saturdays and Sundays throughout this year’s run. As Campaign went to press, ITV would not make any official confirmation – no doubt mindful of its rivalry with the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Strictly Come Dancing regularly beat The X Factor in terms of viewership last year. Although The X Factor was still one of the highest-rating shows in 2013, it attracted the lowest audience for a final since 2005 (an average of 9.6 million). The penultimate episode was seen by an average of 8.4 million viewers – the lowest-ever audience for that slot.
Steve Ballinger, the head of media investment at Amplifi @ Carat, says public interest in Cowell and Fernandez-Versini is likely to drive audiences. "I’m not sure if clients are excited about it, but I think viewers will be," he says. "The audience has dropped off in the past couple of years, but they’re bringing back two massive stars. In terms of audience, I think it will be higher this time around."
The X Factor is one of the few programmes on commercial TV that can still deliver nine to ten million viewers a pop. Moreover, even if broadcasting twice a week in the early stages drags down the average audience, buyers expect overall impacts for the two shows to be up against the equivalent single episode in 2013.
ITV will be glad of the help. Its share of viewing declined by 3 per cent year on year between January and June after a "disappointing" performance from ITV2 and ITV3.
"ITV has struggled a bit this year, [commercial] impacts-wise," Daniel Barnes, PHD’s head of investment, says. "At a time when impacts are down all over, The X Factor is a show that is guaranteed to deliver."
In fact, the combination of declining overall audiences and increased confidence in the TV market could help ITV increase ad revenue from The X Factor this year. Some agencies forecast the TV ad market to expand by 5-7 per cent year on year between September and November, although other sources warn this is far from certain. Meanwhile, estimates suggest 30-second spots during the final should match the £150,000-£200,000 charged in 2013.
The renewal of TalkTalk’s headline sponsorship for another three years is a good indicator of sustained confidence in the show. Other returning partners include Skype and TRESemmé. The show will also form a key part of Christmas campaigns for retailers such as Debenhams and John Lewis.
The X Factor might not reach close to 20 million viewers ever again, but its ability to bring different generations together in an increasingly fragmented media world means it still gets a "yes" from big brands and their agencies.