The Osbournes' performance may have rivalled Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood's now legendary attempt at presenting, but ITV can rest easy knowing its live coverage of the Brits was a hit, bringing in more than 6 million viewers.
Given the lacklustre performance of some of the network's new 9pm shows, the figures for the two-hour awards will have given the broadcaster a much needed boost in audience share.
It also shows that while the tectonic plates of music programming have shifted, there is still room for the genre on mainstream television. The challenge for broadcasters and producers is to make it stand out in a world where music has never been more readily available. There are more than 30 music channels on satellite and cable, at least two on Freeview, and the internet is now the place to watch and share new tracks.
Richard Godfrey, MTV Networks International senior vice-president, content and music, says: “The music market and music on TV has changed radically over the past five years but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for it now. Music works well when it's a live event - productions such as the Diana Concert or Live 8 get very big audiences. It's the sense of occasion and energy as well as the possibility that something might go wrong.”
“Shows that are appointment-to-view will always do well,” agrees Whizz Kid chief executive Malcolm Gerrie. “You need something that compels audiences to watch it there and then, and feel that if they miss it - even if they can watch it later on YouTube - it won't be the same.”
Gerrie's point is borne out by the fact that while record sales are dropping, live music and gigs have never been more popular. It has perhaps become less important to reflect the charts and more important to reflect a general appetite for music.
As a result, the time when programmes such as Top of the Pops, The Chart Show or even Cd:uk were the vanguard of popular music TV is long gone. Where once the nation's teens might have sat down on a Thursday to see who was hot or not, now music is so ubiquitous they can decide for themselves. Online downloads and social networking sites mean that, to most, knowing whether a band is number one or nine in the charts is almost irrelevant.
New era for music TV
BBC commissioning editor for music, arts and performance Adam Kemp says: “While there was a lot of talk when Top of the Pops went, no one now is looking back and questioning why it isn't on any more. We are living in such a different time. The trick now is finding new ways of engaging viewers with music.”
The demise of such shows and the Saturday morning music output means record companies and artists have been forced to become more proactive and to work more with producers and broadcasters to come up with original propositions.
“A half-hour weekly basic studio show featuring the same content that can be readily accessed online is not the kind of content that deserves to be on terrestrial television now,” says ITV's controller of music and events Guy Freeman. “The focus now is on what is entertaining. Pointing a camera at a band is not making television as far as I am concerned. Artists have to be prepared to go the extra mile. Viewers all appreciate it when it seems a performer is doing something special.”
As a result, broadcasters are increasingly tapping into the appeal of events, conjuring up their own specials to create appointment-to-view moments.
ITV has a long tradition of these music shows such as its Audience with... strand which has featured everyone from Lionel Richie and Cliff Richard to the Spice Girls and Celine Dion. The broadcaster has built on this strength in recent years with productions including Saturday Night Divas, The Kylie Show and the upcoming celebrity karaoke show Guilty Pleasures. The BBC too has created its own festival under the Electric Proms banner, teen offering Sound fronted by Radio 1's Annie Mac, and its music sessions for BBC1. It is understood Later... with Jools Holland is being overhauled to go out live and earlier in the schedule. There may even be an extra strand to complement it.
In recent years, music entertainment has become increasingly popular and the future of successful music TV formats may lie in the convergence of these two genres. Gerrie says: “The X Factor is not a classic music show but from that you can get someone like Leona Lewis, who 14 months after winning is on the Brits. At its broadest, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do are examples of the way music is permeating entertainment.”
To that end, Shed's upcoming drama Rock Rivals will let viewers actually vote on which artist will win the spoof show. Simon Cowell has helped choose the song Angels Brought Me Here (sung on Australian Idol a few years ago) for the fictional champion to sing.
It is understood Cowell could option the rights on the recording contract if the show and the stars do well. ITV has also commissioned Britannia High, an eight-part musical series set in a fictional performing arts school. The series is a joint venture with Globe Productions, the television arm of Universal Music, and will feature Arlene Phillips and Gary Barlow.
Freeman comments: “I don't think of music as a separate genre when it comes to programme-making. You need to think, what is going to be entertaining? If all parties work together to come up with innovative ideas then it's beneficial for all.”
Greater collaboration between music and TV execs is one way of ensuring the development of compelling new music formats. It could also be worth looking at how overseas markets make music on television work. In the US, for example, it's not uncommon to launch new bands or songs or relaunch classics by featuring their tracks in big dramas.
Godfrey explains: “CSI has done wonders for The Who, House has done something similar for Massive Attack. The OC and Gray's Anatomy launched a list of upcoming stars. These are TV shows that go around the world - and the soundtracks with it. That's a great way of introducing new songs and breaking new artists. Rather than beat ourselves up that things are changing, we just need to find new ways of working.”