Love & Hate - A breath of fresh Saturday-night air

Why I love Simon Cowell - He has fast become the face of Saturday night, with his sardonic wit and cruel put downs. Marcus Siddons takes his hat off to the man with the high waistband

“He should be melted down and turned into glue,” said Chris Martin from Coldplay in 2002.

An extreme view, yes, but love him or hate him, Simon Cowell is here to stay.

The new incarnation of Pop Idol, X-Factor , on ITV1 is approaching its final stages.

As before with the Pop Idol and Popstars phenomena there has been huge PR activity around the programme. It seems impossible to escape at the moment – becoming a key ingredient of late-night pub conversations across the country.

Its formula of initial humiliation for wannabe pop stars evolving to the inevitable judges’ disagreements is proving irresistible to millions of viewers. While the demise of the reality pop show has been much talked about the reality seems to be that the public at large still has a real appetite for such programming.

However, the programme isn’t really about music. It’s a soap opera set around the three judges – Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh.

Cowell is cast as his normal blunt self, Walsh playing the role of boy/girl band manager and Osbourne the outspoken supporter of “real” music.

The performers included Verity (50), Rowetta (38) and boy band G4.

This, combined with the carefully structured plot stretched out over several months, supports its soap opera credentials.

These performers are arguably merely pawns in Cowell’s short-term plans, to be drained and then cast aside in a few months’ time.

There is something truly disposable about our consumption of these characters and rejection soon after.

Does Mr Cowell have no interest in building a longer-term relationship between the audience and the performers? The audience certainly isn’t interested in an involved relationship.

Cowell is completely in tune with the average viewer of the show. Emap’s recent “Project Phoenix” (a study of the Great British Music Consumer) might refer to them as “Music Casuals”.

Their music consumption is part of a mainstream “fashion, celebrity and entertainment” package. X-Factor is just this, entertainment on a plate for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to find it for themselves, and Cowell is the best at delivering it.

While the five million “Music Casuals” aged 15 to 39 in the UK are not big spenders on music-related products, the sheer number of them make it an attractive market.

While the smaller independent record labels are becoming more sophisticated with their marketing activities, Cowell has become an expert at transferring the typical major label formula across new formats.

No one knows his audience better than Cowell. While internet penetration, for example, continues apace, Cowell continues to use TV primarily (and increasingly digital TV) to target his “Music Casuals”.

This is a natural choice considering their passive consumption of general entertainment and gossip content. Online and mobile, for example, are currently used as a conduit to maintain interest through to the next show.

Content online is excellent with the site featuring replayable performances, message boards, mobile alerts and more information on the artists.

A normal marketing orientation dictates that winners long term will be those who truly build relationships with their audience.

Cowell’s X-Factor formula, however, has quickly built a short-term relationship with the audience without the significant investment ordinarily required.

While the programme formula is itself incredibly valuable (now being licensed worldwide), the associated ready-made pop stars are merely another valuable by-product.

While media opportunities continue apace, Cowell remains one of the few with a true consumer-centric approach.

Everything he does revolves around the buying behaviour of his “Music Casuals” – without any of the commerce-versus-culture contradictions of most label bosses.

In a world increasingly diverted by what technological advances enable, rather than what consumers want to do with it, Simon Cowell is a breath of fresh air ? Marcus Siddons is a digital media planner at I-Level

FANCY A RANT?

If you are so in love with something that you would like to pen an article for Media Week or if you despise something so much that you simply must get your vitriol into print, e-mail richarda@mediaweek.co.uk or write to us at Love & Hate, Media Week, Quantum House, 19 Scarbrook Road, Croydon CR9 1LX or fax us on 020 8565 4394.

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