The Saturday night singing competition The Voice is leaving the BBC and heading for ITV.
Mark Linsey, acting director of BBC Television, confirmed today that the fifth series of the show, which starts in January will be the last one to be shown on the channel. The corporation did make a bid to retain the rights to the series, it is understood, but walked away from the process when ITV offered “substantially more” money.
Mr Linsey said: “The BBC is incredibly proud of The Voice, but the fifth series which starts in January will be our last. We always said we wouldn’t get into a bidding war or pay inflated prices to keep the show, and it’s testament to how the BBC has built the programme up – and established it into a mainstay of the Saturday night schedule – that another broadcaster has poached it.”
The decision follows criticism from John Whittingdale, the culture secretary, who has held up The Voice as an example of the way the corporation squanders licence fee payers’ money.
Referring to the BBC’s original purchase of the rights to the series for £20 million, he said: “The Voice has been very popular, but the fact it was contested between the BBC and ITV, the result was to force up the money paid for it.” He has also described the series as, “way outside the definition of what I call public service broadcasting.”
The BBC’s royal charter is set to expire at the end of 2016 and Mr Whittingdale is currently heading a widespread review of the corporation’s size and scope, and its right to levy a licence fee.
A BBC source said: “We made a final bid for The Voice that we wouldn’t increase. We understand that ITV offered substantially more and we refused to compete. We have to be careful with licence fee money and we didn’t think it was in viewers’ interests to pay over the odds.
“The BBC is still committed to big entertainment shows on Saturday night on BBC One and we are working hard with our suppliers to develop new exciting entertainment formats for our audiences.”
The source added: “We hope, however, that we can give the show the send-off it deserves with a brilliant final series next year.”
The new deal with ITV has not been finalised, but an announcement is expected imminently.
The fifth series began filming in September, with singers Boy George and Paloma Faith, replacing Tom Jones and Rita Ora on the judging panel. Although a ratings success in America, the show has not attracted quite as enthusiastic a following in this country. The ratings for the final show of the last series were the lowest ever for a finale.
However, the series still had a healthy average audience of 8.6million per episode, and it is thought ITV can add to that. Some reports have suggested that the commercial broadcaster may even launch a youth counterpart called The Voice Kids.
ITV has been worried about its viewing figures between January and April since dropping Dancing On Ice in 2014. It could now run The Voice in this period and follow it with Britain’s Got Talent, which traditionally starts in April. The X Factor then takes over in August and continues until the end of the year, helping ITV to dominate Saturday night TV all year round.
A spokesman for ITV said the broadcaster would not be commenting at this stage.