The X Factor: Everybody’s (not) talking at me…

Orla GrahamThere has been a lot of talk over recent weeks about how talent show The X Factor is doing in the ratings war – but of course, TV ratings aren’t always an accurate barometer of how people actually feel about a programme.

With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some other data sets to see if we can get a bigger picture.

Simon Cowell’s show used to be the jewel in ITV’s crown, routinely thrashing all other programming and becoming the talk of the nation, every week until Christmas – but, recently there has been much comment and speculation on how it’s flopping in the ratings, how it might be retired in a couple of years, and how Strictly Come Dancing is continuing to beat it in terms of viewer numbers.

However, when we look at the ratings for this year so far, we can see that the show is maintaining an average of about 7.3 million viewers each week. Yes, Strictly is doing a little bit better than that so far, but it’s far from the disaster of viewers turning off in their droves that the tabloids might like to suggest.

Where we see a real dip, though, is in social media buzz for the show. Using Gorkana Social Media Pro, we’ve been tracking the conversation for X Factor since its opening weekend, and we can see quite a clear trend emerging:

The launch weekend saw a flurry of activity, with the volume of posts peaking at over 110k on Saturday 29th August, but after that interest drops quite considerably. In fact, over a third of conversation for the whole period of 24th August – 28th September was generated during that launch weekend alone.

Traditionally, social media – and Twitter in particular –  contains a mixed bag of sentiment towards the show, whilst lots of fans of X Factor congregate on the social network to tweet along as they watch the live broadcast, a significant proportion of the tweeters are engaging in a love-hate relationship with the programme, giving sardonic and often biting commentary.

The opening show of the 2015 series was no exception to this, with some of the most popular tweets being variations on this theme:

In fact, the only post generating more retweets than the two tweets above was in relation to One Direction. Additionally, @britishlogic was the second most mentioned tweeter of the weekend, behind only the official X Factor account.

If there’s one thing Twitter likes, it’s a nice dollop of cynical ridicule. But even this wasn’t enough to sustain interest in X Factor. Volumes dropped by 65% from week one to week two, and decreased a further 19% into week three.

Potential impressions also dropped by more than half from 29th-30th August to 27th September. Once the buzz from the launch weekend died down, it seemed that the mocking commentators had grown tired of the show, and the majority of the most popular posts were news stories about potential developments, and official posts from @TheXFactor:


Given Simon Cowell’s propensity for courting controversy and being the man Britain loves to hate, surely the fact that people don’t seem to care about his show is worse than mediocre ratings?

It’s not just social media where we see interest dropping off. By looking at other data sets that indicate interest in and engagement with the programme, we can start to put together a wider picture.

We can see, for instance, that online searches for the show have also decreased over the last few years. Using Google Trends, it is possible to see how much people have been searching for X Factor in comparison to other popular searches.

Internet searches peaked in November 2011 (when girl band Little Mix were vying for the X Factor title), and gained a maximum Google Trend score of 100, but they’ve steadily declined ever since. Last year’s peak was only 55 (in October), indicating roughly half the level of interest than in the show’s heyday a few years before.

Worse still, interest seems to be dropping off well before the show’s finale in December of each year and when we drill down into this year’s series so far, we can see a trend similar to that of social media volumes:

Again, we can see a decrease in interest of almost half from the launch weekend to week two, although interest did start to rise again on Sunday 27th September. In addition, Google’s list of ‘Trending searches’ for the UK shows very few X Factor related keywords appearing among the most popular search terms in the last month.

Whilst judges such as Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and Nick Grimshaw occasionally appear in the trending searches, particularly during week one, they appear much less frequently than we might expect.

Of course, there are other in-house data sets that can be used to give an even more sophisticated and insightful evaluation and that can measure website traffic, demographics, text and phone voting numbers for contestants, market research, etc etc. Much of the information used in this post comes from free sources and ratings, and high profile shows are regularly reported online.

There are a variety of other free or low-cost tools out there which allow you to look at top line digital trends in common and popular subjects. As in this case, these can often provide a wider context to a more specific piece of analysis and help to flesh out the results.

Overlaying these data sets gives us a much more comprehensive picture than looking at any of them in isolation. Alone, each piece of data only tells us one part of the story. But given how many different ways people consume and interact with media today, it is vital to ensure that any piece of analysis takes into consideration the wider context of what else is going on.

If we were to look at ratings, for instance, it might be possible to deduce that whilst there is a slight drop off from week one onwards, the overall average is reasonably consistent. But when we add the social media volumes and Google Trends data, we start to see a bigger picture – people might still be watching (or at least have the TV on in the background), but do they really care?

And with reduced public engagement, how long before advertisers jump ship, and the ratings do get truly dismal?

By Orla Graham, Account Manager, Gorkana








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