Pop Idol is probably one of the worse TV shows I've ever seen but
it also has one of the best-ever PR machines behind it - better even
than Big Brother.
I wouldn't be surprised if the PR department has a bigger budget than
the programme itself. They have fed the tabloids a regular supply of
gossip from the programme - much of it has been turned into front-page
stories. The papers have been falling over themselves to 'buy up' the
latest talentless contestant axed from the show who will reveal all
about the remaining wannabes' sex-lives or, in the case of one
contestant, a lack of a sex-life.
To make sure they are ahead of the game, the papers even do their own
phone votes and encourage their readers to vote for the 'star' of their
choice. This all helps the bookies, who never miss an opportunity to get
in on a story.
Last summer, when newspaper sales were falling and ad revenue was
disappearing, Mirror editor Piers Morgan was adamant that Big Brother
stories kept sales up, though it was the paper's more serious reporting
that won it the ' Newspaper of the Year' title.
I confess that I have never watched Pop Idol, but I also confess to
reading about it. The most telling statistic is the number of young
people who watch the programme and who vote by phone for the 'star' they
want to win.
During the final stages of the second Big Brother series last summer,
the media reported that more 18 to 25-year-olds had voted than did so in
the General Election. I remember being harangued by a couple of
teenagers to vote 'Nasty Nick' off the first Big Brother series on my
mobile in a pub - I can't imagine them trying to persuade me to vote for
'Tony' quite so vigorously.
What I find most fascinating about programmes that make instant
celebrities is that we never get to know their surnames - they are all
known only by their first names. It's as if they aren't real people,
which I suppose they aren't. At the end of the day, though, you can't
help but admire the PR machines behind these programmes.
I know I'm biased, but radio consistently provides better entertainment
than a lot of the rubbish on TV. I only wish that radio was as
successful with it's PR as the TV people. TV audiences are, in fact,
steadily falling and more people are now tuning into their radios - but
who knows about it? Why can't radio hype its programmes in the way that
Rory Bremner came to plug his TV show on my Radio 5 Live show last
weekend, not because he loves the show, but because his PR people know
that more people are listening to the radio than watching the TV. The
number of people listening to my programme, Sunday Service, has doubled
in recent years and the number of Radio 5 Live listeners has now risen
to 6.2 million a week. The station has come a long way since it was
called 'rolling bollocks' at its launch eight years ago.
You would expect me to enthuse about 5 Live, but it's not just this
station that has seen more people tuning in. Radio 4 now has ten million
listeners and Britain's most popular station, Radio 2, now pulls in 12.3
million listeners. Even Kelvin Mackenzie's talkSPORT put on 300,000
listeners last year, giving the station a total audience of 2.4
Occasionally a radio story does make it into the newspapers. It
sometimes makes it into The Daily Telegraph that Radio 4 show Book at
Bedtime has been moved five minutes or one of The Archers characters is
having an abortion.
But I won't be happy until radio can hype its very own radio version of
Pop Idol or Big Brother, though I do, of course, hope the content will
be much better.