'X Factor' U.K. Loses Steam Ahead of BBC Clash

Simon Cowell Headshot - P 2014
AP Images

Simon Cowell Headshot - P 2014

The season's second episode of Simon Cowell's ITV show trips before dance-off with ballroom hit

After a stronger season launch on Saturday night, Simon Cowell's The X Factor U.K. on ITV on Sunday lost ratings steam ahead of a key showdown with BBC ballroom dance hit Strictly Come Dancing.

Sunday night's second episode of the 11th season of X Factor averaged 8.2 million viewers, down by 1.7 million from the year-ago episode, according to overnight data. It was also down from the audience of 9.5 million viewers on Saturday, which ranked as the show's best season debut since 2011.

Some say the boost may have been short-lived, but it's still early in the season, with observers saying Monday they would keep an even closer eye on ratings trends this season given that Fox canceled the U.S. version of X Factor earlier this year.

One ratings observer pointed out that‎ last season's first Sunday episode of X Factor benefited from being preceded by soap opera hit Coronation Street, which provided a strong lead-in. Also, X Factor on Sunday peaked with 9.4 million viewers, a 38 percent share of viewing, and was the most watched show of the night in Britain.

Still, the show's outlook has been in focus as it has seen a ratings slump ever since Cowell left it after the 2010 season. It has lost the ratings showdown with Strictly in the past two years.

Next Sunday, Strictly will have its season launch on Sunday when it will go head-to-head with X Factor. Cowell has recently expressed hope that his show could return to outperforming the celebrity dance show, Britain's version of Dancing With the Stars, this year.

"We are not necessarily expecting to win, although we would like to," he told ITV last week. "We are going all-out to make a better show."‎

He also criticized the BBC for scheduling the Strictly season launch opposite X Factor as the shows usually air the same day, but at different times.

"I always think that when people do that the people they are pissing off are the viewers," The Guardian quoted Cowell as saying. "And they say this isn't a ratings battle, it is, that's why they did it. … They are two of the most popular shows of the year, it doesn't make sense to make viewers choose.

Last year, the Strictly season-launch episode on a Saturday became the show's most watched season opener of all time with an average overnight audience of 8.4 million and a 9.4 million peak. That beat out X Factor. In recent years, Strictly has had strong early-season momentum, launching with an average audience of 8 million in 2012, 7.6 million in 2011 and 7.1 million in 2010.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai