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French TV viewers shun X Factor final

Matthew Warren · 29 Jun 2011, 11:56

Published: 29 Jun 2011 13:43 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Jun 2011 11:56 GMT+02:00

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As the singing contest reached its climax on Tuesday night, French audiences gave a Gallic shrug to the X Factor reality television programme.

The headline in Voici magazine summed it up: "X Factor: the big flop"

Last night's final was won by 22-year old British singer Matthew Raymond-Barker. He burst into tears when he found out he had beaten his rival Marina d'Amico.

Even Beyoncé's appearance on last night's show could not change the fact that singing contests have just not taken off in France.

The format has been a hit in countries around the world. X Factor and the Idol franchise have been huge ratings winners in countries including the US, Sweden and Indonesia. 

Yet France, despite its love of music and variety shows, has never fully embraced the concept. Pioneers of the genre were Star Academy and Nouvelle Star, but both have now been axed or paused as audiences continued to fall.

X Factor was the big hope for TV channel M6 after its huge success in the UK where the last series attracted average weekly audiences of 14 million viewers.

Instead, the show limped towards the finish line with an audience of just 1.9 million in its penultimate week.

The director of programmes for M6, Anne-Sophie Larry, has admitted the show has been a flop. She told France Soir "of course we're disappointed, but it's too early to decide whether we will axe the show. We're investigating the reasons for the failure and what didn't work."

Too Anglo-Saxon? Too long? Too much? Commentators have offered lots of reasons for why the French have kept their distance. 

Journalist Julien Bellver, writing on ozap.com, believes the name itself is a problem. "Le X quoi?" he writes.

The format of the show, where juries coach the shortlisted contenders, also seems less clear than other more straightforward formats.

Timing and competition may not have helped. The show runs on a Tuesday evening, so lacks the 'appointment viewing' associated with a Friday or Saturday evening as in some other countries.

Competition on other channels has been stiff, particularly on TF1 which has been showing House starring Hugh Laurie. The show itself is almost three hours long. Too long, according to some, who compare it to the UK show of just 1.5 hours.

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In most countries, the jury is a crucial part of the appeal. Yet the French jury has lacked charisma and real stars, unlike the US where Jennifer Lopez and Paula Abdul or the UK with Girls Aloud star Cheryl Cole. 

France also lacks a noisy and sensationalist press, unlike other countries, which can provide a stream of stories about participants in the days building up to each show. Instead, the contest has gone largely unreported except on celebrity and music websites.

It could just be that the format, which never really took off, has run its course. Bellver thinks that "perhaps the supply of talent in France may have just run out."

A final and more charitable theory, which commentators have so far been too polite to mention, is that the French might just have better taste than the rest of us.

Matthew Warren (news.france@thelocal.com)

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