I’m going to put it out there – I think organisers of the Olivier Awards have a massive challenge on their hands. A challenge relating to how they plan to attract, and retain, viewers for the ITV coverage of the ceremony in April.
I am pondering this now as last Sunday saw BBC1 screen coverage of the BAFTA Film Awards, which, like ITV’s broadcast of the Oliviers will be this year, was an edited version of the event, screened a short while after the awards had been given out.
The BAFTAs this year enjoyed their biggest audience for a decade, with the programme that went out attracting 5.3 million. But the figure wasn’t enough to match ITV’s drama Mr Selfridge, also shown at 9pm, which pulled in 6 million viewers.
Still, it’s not a bad figure, and was no doubt helped by the fact the BAFTAs was attended by Hollywood royalty, such as Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Ben Affleck and Sarah Jessica Parker, as well as UK talent of our own, such as Judi Dench and Helen Mirren (complete with pink hair – what was that all about?).
It is these people who generate massive box office takings at the cinema, and who viewers like to turn on the TV and see, particularly as they are dressed to the nines in designer frocks.
And this is why I worry for the Oliviers.
Last year, for example, there was a duet between Boyzone’s Ronan Keating and Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh. Let’s just be thankful that the Oliviers weren’t broadcast then, as viewers definitely wouldn’t be tuning in again following that excruciating performance
Theatreland doesn’t have the same draw as Hollywood. Yes, some plays and musicals make use of “big names”, but when the Oliviers are screened on ITV, the well-known faces will be in the minority.The faces viewers see walking up the red carpet to the Royal Opera House will, and it pains me to say this, be unfamiliar to many TV viewers. Are they going to be as interested from the word go about tuning in, if they don’t know who they’re looking at? And you only have to look at what most of the discussion was about on Monday after the BAFTAs – who wore what – to see how important this is, sadly.
Of course, the Society of London Theatre, which organises the event, has already announced Sheridan Smith as one of the co-presenters of the ceremony. Smith is the lady of the moment, and her presence I am sure will be of interest to viewers, but is it enough? SOLT has yet to announce who the other presenter is. The danger is, of course, it goes for someone high profile, but perhaps somewhat irrelevant, just to boost its ratings chances. I’m hoping for Tim Minchin.
Of course, the Oliviers is a fantastic show, and, unlike the BAFTAs, it offers live performances throughout the ceremony. This, undoubtedly, will be a draw and a great opportunity to showcase the best of the West End.
These performances, I am sure, will be crucial to the edited version of the ceremony that is broadcast and must be included.
But I hope SOLT and ITV don’t go down the route of peppering the show with gimmicky, celebrity performances in an attempt to appeal to viewers. Last year, for example, there was a duet between Boyzone’s Ronan Keating and Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh. Let’s just be thankful that the Oliviers weren’t broadcast on ITV then, as viewers definitely wouldn’t be tuning in again following that excruciating performance.
The other point to make is that, like the BAFTAs, the Olivier Awards will have taken place a short while before the actual broadcast on ITV, meaning those who want to can find out who has won on social media sites such as Twitter without having to watch the TV show. I watched the BAFTAs on Sunday night, and made a decision not to read Twitter until I had. But, judging by other comments I saw, there were many people who had their viewing experience ruined by reading Twitter beforehand. How many didn’t bother with the TV show as a result, I wonder?
The Oliviers on ITV will also compete with BBC Radio 2, which, as in previous years, will broadcast the show live, as it happens. How many will opt for this instead of the TV screening? SOLT, by striking a deal with both the BBC and ITV, risks dividing its audience.
I should point out that figures from last year’s ceremony showed that 681,000 people watched a highlights package of the Oliviers on the BBC via the broadcaster’s ‘red button’. More than 180,000 used the red button to watch the Olivier Awards live and 31,000 watched a live stream of the event online, bringing the total number of people watching the show to 893,000.
This isn’t bad at all, and proves there is an appetite for the awards on screen.
But ITV will be banking on much more than this if it is to be persuaded that the ceremony should be broadcast again in the future. Only time will tell.