142 million votes: Why the record-breaking Idols keeps growing as it prepares for its 15th season

Johannesburg – Renewed for a 15th season in 2019, the record-breaking Idols on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) keeps barreling full-steam ahead with TV ratings surging and surreal growth in voting numbers as the singing reality competition show surpassed 142 million votes – a new overall record – for the just-concluded 14th season.

After 16 years and 14 seasons since 2002, turn over the can labelled Idols and you won't find an expiry date listing any sell-by year in its second decade on the air.

In fact, Idols that's keeping up its phenomenal growth in ratings, voting and social media viewer engagement, has become an example of how a carefully-crafted TV show, slowly but steadily nurturing its audience, can increase and leverage the power of that viewership to greater commercial success.

Idols, a Fremantle format show produced by [sic] Entertainment with co-executive producers Gavin Wratten and ProVerb (Tebogo Thekosho who is also the presenter), continues to ride the crest of the combined waves of growth in pay-TV households, the ongoing expansion of the black middle class in South Africa, smartphone ownership and increased broadband data penetration.

READ MORE: Idols SA season 14 winner crowned

All combined – and through knowing the audience and giving them exactly what they want – Idols has established itself as true tentpole television, making viewers not just feel as if they have a real voice in its democracy-in-action voting mechanics but by literally shaping a carefully choreographed secular version of a Sunday evening church-going experience – one where "pastor" ProVerb as presenter holds sway.

With its now firmly-established formulaic fame-making liturgy set down to the smallest unwavering details – viewers for instance getting equal-parts frustrated and elated in anticipation over things like ProVerb dragging out dramatic announcements with "after the commercial break" and with just enough minor variance in-between to keep things ever-unpredictable – Idols has created the template for a communal shared TV experience in the social media age.

The big Idols winners are M-Net, Mzansi Magic, and the in-show advertisers and sponsors who not only get a dedicated, captive audience but a growing and dynamically active captive audience. Idols viewers don't just watch the show – they live it, and as they live it, they spread it.

"Idols is the biggest talent platform in the country and keeps producing amazing talent. Gavin and ProVerb have done an amazing job. I look forward to Idols' 15th season," said Reneilwe Sema, the director of local entertainment channels at M-Net, just after Sunday's 2-hour 14th season Idols live finale that was broadcast on Mzansi Magic.


Channel24 asked Gavin Wratten right after Sunday's finale broadcast what he makes of the show's massive ongoing voting growth, for context about the latest Idols voting records and how he feels about Idols going from 83 million votes in 2016, to 98 million in 2017, and 142 million votes in 2018.

"Last year we were all blown away when we got 98 million votes and I don't think we ever thought we would get anywhere close to that for the season. 98 million was amazing," said Wratten.

"So ProVerb and I chatted and we said at the beginning of the 14th season let's just throw it out there, let's just try break 100 million."

"And now, 142 million votes later, really I have no words. It's just unbelievable."

Idols already surpassed the total 98 million votes of the entire previous 13th season by the penultimate Sunday broadcast last week. That was when the total votes cast reached 110 million. This means that by Sunday a week ago, Idols already had 12 million votes more than the entire previous season. And the final week was still to come.

Then viewers cast another additional 32.5 million votes during the final broadcast week of Idols, that brought the total to just over 142 million votes for the entire 14th season.

Meanwhile viewership for Idols' 14th season is up by roughly half a million viewers over the previous 13th season – an astounding achievement for a show that viewers have to pay to watch.

Rating wise Idols at 1.55 million viewers during October for its most-watched episode on Mzansi Magic for the month lured more total viewers to the pay-TV channel than what the entire SABC3 as a free-to-air channel get: In October SABC3's top show was its weekday soap Isidingo with 1 020 712 viewers.

In fact, on the entire MultiChoice DStv pay-TV service Idols is the 3rd highest-rated show, behind just The Queen and Our Perfect Wedding - both Mzansi Magic shows on the same channel that's available to just DStv Premium, DStv Compact Plus and DStv Compact subscribers.

Idols will start auditions in January 2019.

Auditions will take place on:

26 January 2019 – Pretoria, State Theatre
9 February 2019 – Durban, North Beach Amphitheatre
16 February 2019 – Johannesburg, Ellis Park
2 March 2019 – Cape Town, Century City

Several factors work together that could likely see Idols viewership and voting increase again.

From March 2019 an "unused roll-over data" rule will come into effect for cellular operators that could see consumers have access to more of their not yet used data before they lose it.

Elections will be held in South Africa in mid-2019, with the heightened social awareness around the importance of voting that could lead to an uptick in general voting behaviour elsewhere, for instance Idols.

Meanwhile smartphone sales, smartphone use, data use, and DStv subscriptions – especially of DStv Compact – in South Africa all keep growing despite a struggling economy, adding to the base elements fuelling Idols success.


Lastly, almost unnoticeably, Idols is ticking younger in winners – and that undoubtedly means an ongoing broadening of the audience.

It doesn't mean that the Idols audience is getting younger, but it means that more younger viewers are watching, and those younger viewers act as a tether to bring more other viewers with them, making the audience larger.

As viewers relate to, and identify with who they see on screen and reflect them, the inclusion of more younger top participants and steadily getting younger winners means that it's drawing in more younger viewers.

These younger viewers cause other family members to tune in as well for the viewing experience – people who might not have watched Idols but then follow the show.

Parents and older family members tend to watch what their children and younger family members watch, choose the TV to be tuned to and consider to be cool – a viewing trend that doesn't work the other way around.

Over the past four years since the show's transition to Mzansi Magic the Idols winner's age has steadily crept downwards from 30 (2014), 24 (2015), 22 (2016), 17 (2017) and 17 (2018) – an unmistakable trend line if you look closely.

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