LONDON -- It's the show that launched Leona Lewis to worldwide stardom, but it's a promotional opportunity that extends beyond up-and-comers. A guest appearance on "The X Factor" is now an essential part of any major act's U.K. campaign.
According to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board, the music talent show--produced by Talkback Thames and the Syco TV division of Simon Cowell's Syco partnership with Sony Music Entertainment--had two of the top five-rated U.K. TV broadcasts in 2008. The Dec. 13 finale, which saw singer Alexandra Burke triumph over boy band JLS, had ratings of 14.1 million for terrestrial channel ITV1.
"Given the size and impact of 'The X Factor,' it is generally worth a stand-alone trip from the U.S. for the right artist," says John Fleckenstein, New York-based senior VP of international at RCA/Jive Label Group, who booked Britney Spears during last year's season. "This is extremely rare these days--not many international shows can command that level of investment on their own."
Spears' Nov. 29, 2008, performance was heavily billed as a world exclusive and helped send "Circus" (Jive) to No. 4 a week later on first-week sales of 76,000, according to the Official Charts Co. (OCC)--a notable increase on the 48,000 first-week tally of "Blackout" in October 2007.
"It's the one show that all artists should want to be on," says Tina O'Connor, "X Factor" celebrity producer for Talkback Thames. O'Connor explains that she books acts depending on "their music, how big they are and how exciting they are performance-wise."
Artists need to be available to perform live on Sunday evening during the results show; mentoring sessions--which Spears skipped, while Mariah Carey and Take That coached contestants through covers of their hits for themed editions--are filmed on a designated day the week before the show airs.
O'Connor begins management/label meetings in March to discuss artist appearances on the live performance shows, which start in October, two months into the show's run and after audition rounds. Robbie Williams is confirmed for 2009, with Rihanna, Whitney Houston and Madonna also rumored to appear.
Kevin McCabe, VP of promotions and press at EMI's Parlophone Records, has met with O'Connor and hopes to see "X Factor" fan Lily Allen on this season's run. Parlophone-signed Kylie Minogue previously performed "Wow," the second single from her album "X," on the 2007 finale. "It really did give us a shot in the arm when we needed it," McCabe says.
The show features major international pop/R&B acts, and O'Connor is happy to receive direct approaches from America. Noting that the producers' focus on "delivering the best show possible" means there isn't any favoritism toward Sony acts, Fleckenstein says the show's U.K. exclusivity requirement is "almost always worth it."
Indeed, the impact of an appearance would be difficult to match even with multiple promo slots elsewhere. After Beyonce's appearance duetting with Burke on the 2008 finale, her song "Listen" jumped 60-8 on the singles chart (29,000 in sales, according to the OCC), "If I Were a Boy" rose 9-4 (47,000), and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" climbed 24-20 (15,000). On the albums chart, "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" (RCA) had the biggest sales increase that week, moving 24-9 on sales of 102,500.
"It has the ability to marry celebrity and musical ability into an incredibly compelling cocktail for sales. Beyonce's appearance is the perfect example," Fleckenstein says. "For the right artist, when we can book the show is often a factor of when we release our album in the market. That alone speaks volumes of its importance and dominance."
Even artists that don't appear on the show can receive a huge boost if contestants cover one of their songs. Cowell chose Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for the 2008 winner's song, and Burke's recording has sold 1.1 million copies, according to the OCC.
Rak Sanghvi, managing director at Sony/ATV Music Publishing (U.K.), says Cowell's selection of the Sony/ATV copyright was a "lovely surprise," adding that there have also been "favorable noises about a number of our writers and a number of our songs" for Burke's debut album, due this fall.
And, indeed, one of the best ways to guarantee an "X Factor" appearance is by graduating from its ranks. Lewis' second album, "Echo," is due Nov. 16, and it's likely she and Burke will return to the show. JLS is hoping to get a chance to perform its second single, "Everybody in Love" (Epic, Nov. 2), following a U.K. No. I with its debut, "Beat Again."
"It was a fantastic platform for us. We'd love to go back and show our gratitude," JLS member Jonathan "JB" Gill says.
It's also a big show in several other countries--the format has been sold around the world since its U.K. launch in 2004. As with "American Idol," Cowell is at the center of the show as a judge and executive producer--although in the case of "The X Factor" it's also his creation. Max Clifford, Cowell's personal spokesman, says the executive has "shown that he's got the Midas touch."
We turned to these 10 industry experts to determine the best ways to promote music in the United Kingdom.
KATE ETTERIDGE ACCOUNT MANAGER, LD COMMUNICATIONS ldcommunications.co.uk
SNOWY EVERITT DIRECTOR, THINK ESPIONAGE thinkespionage.com
SIMON FORBES PRODUCT MANAGER, ATLANTIC RECORDS U.K. atlanticrecords.co.uk
CHRIS GOODMAN MUSIC DIRECTOR, OUTSIDE ORGANISATION outside-org.co.uk
CHRIS LATHAM HEAD OF PUBLICITY, RCA U.K. sonymusic.com
KEVIN McCABE VP OF PROMOTIONS AND PRESS, PARLOPHONE emi.com
DAVE SHACK VP OF INTERNATIONAL, SONY MUSIC U.K. sonymusic.com
PHOEBE SINCLAIR DIRECTOR OF PRESS, VIRGIN RECORDS U.K. emi.com
PAUL SMERNICKI HEAD OF DIGITAL, POLYDOR RECORDS umusic.com
TIM SMITH MANAGING DIRECTOR, IMAGEM MUSIC imagem-music.com
Paine, Andre. "'X' marks the spot: if there's only one U.K. TV show to book, make it 'The X Factor'." Billboard 26 Sept. 2009: 24. General OneFile. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.
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