Director of television at ITV Peter Fincham has suggested that the BBC has been playing a “game” for years whereby it deliberately schedules its dancing competition ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ against ‘The X Factor’ on Saturday nights in a battle of the ratings.

‘The X Factor’ returns this weekend on Saturday August 29th with its new judging line-up featuring Nick Grimshaw and Rita Ora, and when ‘Strictly’ kicks off the following weekend (September 6th) the two shows will overlap by 20 minutes.

If trends continue from recent years, where ‘Strictly’ has edged ahead of its ITV rival in the ratings, then ‘The X Factor’ can expect its viewing figures to take a noticeable hit at the end of each weekly programme. “This really matters to us, because we are a commercial business,” Fincham pointed out.

Simon CowellSimon Cowell and his new beard will be returning to 'The X Factor' this weekend

“I don't know why [the BBC] did that,” he said during a panel at the Edinburgh Festival on Wednesday, “but it feels a bit like, 'Let's try to see if we can clip The X Factor's wings'. I know from my own time at the BBC that this is a bit of a game. All the evidence we have from our audiences is that they don't want the two to overlap. It's perfectly possible for them not to overlap.”

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This year, Fincham has revealed that ITV will be taking the step of publishing all of ‘The X Factor’s broadcast times in a bid to show up the BBC if it does decide to do the same thing again. “We’re actually going to do something we’ve never done before. We’re going to tell the world the start times of all ‘X Factor’ broadcasts this autumn.”

However, a spokesperson for the BBC has denied that the network deliberately goes looking to pit rival shows against each other in the schedules. “We always try to avoid clashes, but we schedule our programmes with licence fee payers in mind and they tell us they want high-quality entertainment at the heart of the Saturday night schedule.”

Fincham’s opposite number at the BBC, head of TV Danny Cohen, also responded to the suggestions. “These things happen all the time. We've noticed suddenly ‘Emmerdale’ finds itself up against ‘EastEnders’ with astonishing regularity.”

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