‘X Factor’ Ratings Drop: 5 Ways to Turn the Tide for Season 3

I’d hate to beat a dead horse, especially as my TV reporting colleagues have been doing a pretty good job of it already. But, FOX’s The X Factor has to face the music…

After a season of sagging ratings, the talent competition saw a rise in its finale week, reaching a season high of 9.6 million viewers. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the viewership for Thursday’s live finale results show still represents a drop from the 12.6 million viewers who watched the grand finale last season.

This season, the show was able to create buzz. New judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato certainly held our curiosity for the season debut. And in the absence of a host, the show got rave reviews for its gritty behind the scenes storytelling with the contestants. And the ongoing search for new co-hosts got dangerously (possibly on purpose) close to its live episodes and ended with Khloe Kardashian Odom and Mario Lopez casting announcements at the eleventh hour.

So, why couldn’t The X Factor sustain the buzz and retain its Season 1 audience? And how can that be fixed on Season 3? Here’s my suggestions.

1. Make talent the real focus and don’t just give it lip service. As much as Simon Cowell likes to minimize NBC’s The Voice’s spinning chairs as just another gimmick, at least they keep the focus on real talent. Too often, The X Factor clearly went for drama over talent. CeCe Frey didn’t just suddenly have pitch problems during live shows. There was always a problem there. But, she was brash, competitive and they could milk the supposed rivalry between her and Paige Thomas for weeks. That brings me to my second suggestion…

2. Cut out the continual buzz generating. It has been a long time since anyone could call TV the “boob tube.” Today’s freshest ideas and most talented people are on TV. And along with that, the viewing audience has become a lot more sophisticated about their choices. In this environment, buzz doesn’t create a loyal viewer. Sure, the viewing audience may be feeling some overload on TV talent competitions (as Simon suggested this week), but how does that explain The Voice’s increasing ratings this season? So, the real question here is why did the viewing audience choose not to return to The X Factor? I think the show’s constant buzz gave way to white noise.

3. Stop revealing the rankings as the show approaches later rounds. Sure, it was new and informative when the show first introduced rankings. It was particularly mind-blowing to see that boy group Emblem3 wasn’t topping the votes and that country singer Tate Stevens actually was. But, as the show got closer to the final rounds, I think they needed to shut down the rankings process. The air of mystery was really hard to capture – no matter how much they wanted us to believe “anything could happen.”

4. Ditch the two-hour format. Sure, it’s attractive to package two hours of TV to advertisers. But, what’s the real worth of that when your audience is fatigued from talent shows and doesn’t want all the fluff? If the show really wants to do something groundbreaking, it should go to a one-hour format and respect our precious primetime.

5. Britney Spears should stay, but she has to find some passion for the gig. Britney certainly piqued our interest in the beginning, but what did she really offer as far as constructive criticism? Terse (admittedly, at times amusing) statements like, “It was really exciting” or “I’m very proud of her,” even “I just don’t get it.” But, let’s face it; most of us have no idea when someone is being pitchy or when a singer could’ve started a song in a lower key. We look to the judges to tell us those things. Simon and L.A. Reid may be the ones to tell us if an act can be packaged into a hit, but the musical expertise comes from the performer judges, no? Should Britney do another season? With L.A. leaving, it would be nice to have some stability on the panel. But, if she stays, she has to find some way to warm up to the position.

How would you change The X Factor next season?

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