Talent Drives TV Success Through Media Coverage

After production was stopped on this season’s Top Gear because of injuries sustained by presenter Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff during filming, BBC entertainment reporter Steven McIntosh wrote that Flintoff ‘helped save’ one of the BBC’s most popular shows. McIntosh comments on what every producer knows, that ‘chemistry’ between presenters is an essential ingredient in driving TV viewing audience numbers. Top Gear, he explains, faltered during the Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc years, only for the chemistry to be spectacularly re-ignited by daredevil Flintoff, along with his co-stars Chris Harris and Paddy McGuiness.

It’s not only on Top Gear that audience engagement is driven by the talent – the stars that people tune in week after week to see. Metricomm analysis has repeatedly revealed that viewing audiences are substantially influenced by PR activity surrounding the names in the credits, both during transmission periods and on catch-up.  Interestingly, this applies not only to presenters and actors, but sometimes also to series writers, directors and specific characters within a drama. 

Often, the contribution of the talent mix is less obvious than the impact achieved by Sarah Lancashire, James Norton and Sally Wainwright in creating the media frenzy around Happy Valley. However, when production companies understand which talent is most likely to be encouraging people to tune in and watch, they can maximise PR campaigns before and during transmission to create uplift in viewing audience figures. Celebrities don’t appear on Graham Norton’s sofa just to raise their own profile, it’s often a business decision to give their latest series or film a PR boost. Similarly, content about the talent in the right online media can significantly increase the chances of a successful show. 

Google search trends for shows and talent shed light on whether PR is likely to have the desired outcome. Good headlines create search interest, which in turn translates into viewers. Knowing what the audience is searching for is one of a number of KPIs that allow us to provide strategic input to PR planning for everything from documentaries to drama to televised national events. A quick glance at recent search trends for Top Gear and Andrew Flintoff suggests that the popular presenter will be a hard act to follow. 

Of course, it’s reassuring to see the BBC taking Flintoff’s accident so seriously and doing the right thing by suspending filming. Whatever decisions are made about Top Gear in the long-term, even this may entail some positives for the BBC, because the surrounding media coverage will inevitably encourage viewers to watch – or purchase on DVD – those episodes starring Freddie’s daredevil escapades which have already been released. TV gold is often created by a sooner-than-planned ending.  Look at ITV ratings for Vera, almost certainly helped by recent national media interviews with Brenda Blethyn and speculation about the programme’s future. Whether more episodes are filmed or not, it’s PR that’s keeping viewers on the hook.