Richard Bacon's panel discussion examining the battle for Saturday night at this year's Edinburgh TV Festival included candid nuggets from Syco's Head of Television Siobhan Greene about her boss Simon Cowell's response to the unexpected success of BBC's 'The Voice'.
Mark Linsey, Controller of Entertainment Commissioning at the BBC, claimed his channel liked the format of 'The Voice' because it provided an opportunity to look at a broader range of singers than other shows. He admitted that the way audience numbers had declined at the end of the audition phase had prompted the BBC to re-examine the format but when asked whether this meant they'd devised a way of retaining the 'spinny chair' element, he would only say: "we'll let you know".
Siobhan Greene and Elaine Bedell, Director of Entertainment and Comedy at ITV both felt that The Voice's problems weren't limited to this flaw in its format. "You've got to find a star," said Greene, "it validates the process."
Linsey's attempts to claim that The Voice had found a star were undermined when he admitted that he couldn't remember the full name of the inaugural winner.
The BBC man suggested that the press had "overplayed the rivalry between his network and ITV" but Heat magazine's Boyd Hilton disagreed: "the BBC was cheerleading those early ratings... they can't blame the media for remaining interested in the audience numbers once it started to turn around."
Siobhan Greene is dismissive of what the stats can tell her: "I don't need the ratings to tell me whether we've made a great show." And she identified a critical point of difference between her shows and The Voice: "wit and humour is a very important aspect of The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent... I think The Voice took itself a bit too seriously."
But she admitted that the early success of The Voice had led to crisis meetings over chicken pie at Simon Cowell's house: "I wouldn't say Simon was worried but it focused his mind... it focused all our minds and made us determined to make our show even better."
Responding to an accusation from Boyd Hilton that the BBC consistently tried to suggest to the public that The Voice was less inclined towards the sob stories that characterise its rivals on ITV, Mark Linsey reminded the forum that his channel broadcasts 'Hole In The Wall' and 'Total Wipeout': "we do commission shows that have absolutely no public service broadcasting element whatsoever," he proudly boasted.
Battle will be rejoined next spring when the second series of 'The Voice' is expected to once again go head-to-head with 'Britain's Got Talent' - the TV industry will be watching closely to see if the BBC's tinkering with the format is successful or whether Simon Cowell will once again steal The Voice's audience at the end of the audition phase.