Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Singing contests turn to tech

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast July 3, 2014

ITV can learn from Rising Star’s debut in the US, says Kate Bulkley

Just when you thought singing contests had run out of steam, two more are about to crash into our lives - and both use social media and interactive apps as their voting engine, as well as on-stage moving parts.

Channel 4 is to debut The Singer Takes It All in August and its signature development is a moving stage: the more votes a contestant receives, the closer they move to the ‘gold zone’ (that’s good); if the votes are low, they are moved towards the exit (that’s bad).

The other new singing show contender is Keshet’s Rising Star, which is built around a rising wall and had buyers salivating at MipTV this spring. ITV has snatched the rights and will launch the show next year. But are moving walls and dynamic stages enough to reinvigorate the singing format?

Certainly Rising Star is the new sensation of ABC in America and its big trick - beyond the rising wall - is to allow live voting using cloud-based technology that won’t crash unless there are more than 100 million simultaneous votes.

The singer begins their performance screened off from the audience and judges. As they sing, the votes they receive from the interactive app are logged, and if 70% of the audience - which includes those in the studio, the judges and TV viewers connected via the app - like them, then the screen rises (Rising Star - geddit!) and the artist is through to the next round.

I was in the US when it debuted, and because America has so many time zones, contestants can be ‘saved’ by the east or west coasts, with the votes logged on duelling monitors.

Okay, so not all of it worked, and 460,000 likes on ABC’s Rising Star Facebook page do not a hit make, but at a time when keeping TV viewers tuned in is getting harder, Rising Star does offer the viewer a moment of TV fame. As the votes come in, the screened wall in front of the singer is filled with the headshots of every voter - so, if you want your photo on television, then vote for the artist.

It’s a quite brilliant twist for a genre that has showed signs recently that it is running on empty in the US. The X Factor has been cancelled, American Idol’s ratings are at an all-time low and The Voice’s audience numbers have been down this season.

ABC has not had an easy ride either, with the other US networks working hard to shoot down the new show. For its 22 June debut, Rising Star had to fight for eyeballs with NBC’s America’s Got Talent and the return of True Blood on HBO. It managed 5 million viewers (ABC’s biggest summer launch since 2011), compared with AGT’s 8 million.

However, the Rising Star premiere had 129,071 tweets - more than double AGT’s 59,734. It also garnered 5 million votes, which doubled to 10 million during last Sunday’s show, according to Screenz, the Israeli company that has developed the real-time voting technology and is working closely with ITV.

Will Rising Star and The Singer Takes It All succeed here in the UK? Well, viewer participation, interactivity and social media voting are all part of TV’s current holy grail. But hitting the right note with audiences is tough, even with a lot of cool tech and moving parts.

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