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Simon Cowell's 'X Factor' to Renew U.K. Showdown With BBC's 'Strictly Come Dancing'

Simon Cowell
Jeff Lipsky / FOX
Simon Cowell

The star will not be part of the judging panel for season 10, but ITV hopes tweaks to the music competition show format will help ratings after two years of declines.

LONDON – Simon Cowell's talent show The X Factor is set to return to U.K. broadcaster ITV for its 10th season this weekend and renew its ratings showdown with the BBC's celebrity ballroom dance show Strictly Come Dancing, which industry observers are following closely.

X Factor, which has been losing viewers in the past couple of seasons without Cowell as one of the judges, will debut with episodes on Saturday and Sunday after last season opening with only a single show per week. And it will see some format tweaks in an attempt to boost audience figures. ITV is also launching Stepping Out, another dance format, following X Factor to compete with the BBC.

Meanwhile, Strictly Come Dancing is set to launch its 11th season season on Sept. 7 with 15 celebrities whose names haven't been revealed yet. Among the rumored names has been that of Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher. It isn't clear yet if the show and X Factor will go head-to-head or not, but their ratings performance will be in focus.

The season finale of X Factor drew an average audience of 10.9 million, or 11.1 million when including the audience for a reairing with a one-hour delay, down from the 13.1 million for the final episode of 2011 and 17.2 million for the 2010 season finale. It was the lowest-rated season finale of X Factor in the U.K. since 2006, when it drew 10.4 million, or 10.8 million when including delayed viewership.

The Strictly Come Dancing finale last year drew an average of 12.4 million viewers, up from the 12.2 million who had tuned in for the final show of the 2011 edition. And the show also drew stronger average ratings than X Factor in many other weeks.

The average X Factor U.K. audience for the eighth season came in at 9.6 million, followed by 8.9 million in the ninth season. Those figures were down from more than 12 million in 2010.

ITV1 has seen the Cowell-created music competition remain one of the highest-rated entertainment shows on British TV though, despite the weaker ratings for two years in a row. Cowell had an on-air role through the 2010 season.

X Factor has only slightly rejiggered its panel of judges. The ninth season featured Take That star Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Tulisa Contostavlos and Louis Walsh as judges. This season, Contostavlos is being replaced by the returning Sharon Osbourne. The outspoken Osbourne was one of the original X Factor judges in Britain from 2004 through 2007.


The producers have also made some tweaks to X Factor. For example, the audition stage sees both a "closed" and an open audition. That means that hopefuls will have to survive two sets of auditions "to prove they can also impress an audience before securing a place at the next stage in the competition," producers said.

British industry observers are expecting ITV to renew X Factor for at least a couple of additional seasons, and some media reports have said ITV would like Cowell to return to the show's judging panel next year.

ITV director of TV Peter Fincham on Friday said it "would be great" if Cowell returned, but argued that "it is an enormous program with or without Simon."

Addressing the show's weaker ratings over the past couple of seasons, Fincham said that "juggernauts will fluctuate." He declined to predict when X Factor may come to an end, but said that it potentially has "many years" left in it.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai