There's been a huge furore in the last 24 hours over New Zealand's X Factor, thanks to some ill-considered comments by husband-and-wife judging duo Natalia Kills and Willy Moon. Now, New Zealand On Air has announced it is withdrawing funding from the show, although they suggest they made their mind up about this before the controversy. Both judges will be replaced because of their remarks - and currently face a tirade of abuse themselves on their social accounts - much of it absolutely despicable. Elsewhere, the discussion rages around whether the whole thing was a hoax designed to boost the show's flagging ratings and we are left with a million suit-and-hair memes littering the web. All in all, it's a shambles. So who is to blame?
Public relations builds and sustains the relationships you need to maintain your licence to operate, but if behaviour is downright bad - either organisational or individual behaviour - the licence to operate will be taken away by those who feel they have a stake in either the organisation or the environment.
The judges upset the X Factor NZ audience with their unkindness (to put it mildly) towards probably the sweetest and most vulnerable of the contestants. So, instant withdrawal of licence to operate - social media storm, viewers abandoning the show, sponsor statements chastising the two judges for moving so far away from 'brand values', judges sacked and NZ On Air funding out the window. Will there be another X Factor NZ? I'd be surprised. It had already lost a fair amount of goodwill and social capital following an audition featuring a convicted criminal. Sunday was the nadir.
Will the producers learn anything from it all? Now that's the $50,000 dollar question. Ultimately, the show's producers need to take responsibility. From the start, they had set the scene for Kills and Moon to be the show's villains - much inappropriate commentary washed under the viewing bridges before Sunday's killer comments but, it would seem, nothing was done to rein them in, instead allowing them to evolve into caricature baddies week by week. Reports of anti-social behaviour by the two judges outside the studio seemed to be ignored. The whiff of pantomime villains was in the air long before Sunday's debacle.
All 'reality' TV shows set someone up to be the villain - whether it's The Block or the just-to-be-launched The Bachelor (which for me, is programming at its most vile and exploitative). Even if the villain-to-be is actually rather nice, the producers and editors will slice and dice the footage to create the 'characters' necessary for their smoke-and-mirrors version of reality - which, of course, doesn't reflect reality at all. In the case of Moon and Kills, it seems they took on the role of villain rather too enthusiastically, fuelled perhaps by their own immaturity, inexperience, ego and bad manners. Now, they are the subject of derision worldwide - notorious for their behaviour rather than their profession and themselves at the mercy of social media bullies venting at the X Factor bullying they attempt to decry. I wonder what support (if any) they are getting from their erstwhile Frankenstienian employers?
The whole thing is messy, nasty - and completely unnecessary. Better management by MediaWorks and its producers, better understanding of their audience, the country of operation and its culture, better understanding of the personas they engage for the task and some empathy for the contestants that goes beyond hoisting them to verbal whipping posts week-in week-out and they might just have made it. Instead, there will be a long and uncomfortable limp to obscurity as they face the reality of their licence to operate being withdrawn.