Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent returned to ITV with much fanfare on Saturday night, beating rival BBC show The Voice UK and causing some controversy in the process. BGT had its second biggest launch in seven years scoring an average 10.5M viewers and peaking at just over 13M. Only the 2010 start was bigger with a 10.6M average.
But two acts have been deemed inappropriate by some in the Twittersphere and by a group that campaigns for family values in the media. The performances in question saw an 11-year-old girl sing the one-night-stand-themed “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls, while a 40-something woman did a semi-striptease and gave Cowell a mini-lapdance. Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch UK, told The Daily Mail that ITV appeared “to have completely ignored” guidelines set up by regulator Ofcom which has warned broadcasters about sexually explicit content ahead of the 9 PM watershed. But an ITV spokesman tells Deadline, “In its seventh series, Britain’s Got Talent celebrates variety and showcases a wide range of different acts. Mindful of our family audience, the performance was carefully edited to ensure it was suitably inexplicit.” Ahead of this weekend’s controversy, an ITV source told me the network chose to air BGT at 7 PM despite a clash with the BBC’s The Voice, because otherwise it “would have had to go late” and risk losing the family audience.
Although it lost out to BGT on Saturday night, The Voice UK scored its highest average of the series thus far with 6.67M viewers and a peak of 7.7M. The two shows have been locked in a rivalry ever since the BBC won the rights to air The Voice in a 2011 bidding war. After many scheduling shifts last year, this season is no different. The Voice started airing in the 7 PM slot at the end of March and ITV last week said it was moving BGT up an hour to also air in the 7 PM slot despite traditionally starting an hour later. The BBC then backed up this past Saturday’s Voice start to 6:45 PM in order to have less of an overlap. It has since said that starting April 20, it will air at 8:20 PM, pretty much entirely out of the way of BGT. Ofcom, meanwhile, will assess any complaints it receives over BGT‘s Saturday debut.