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Sit back and enjoy the talent

Just who or what is to blame for The X Factor? Step up, the worldwide web. Not only is the sixth series sponsored by a broadband company, TalkTalk, but the format is clearly a desperate stab at survival by the last producers afloat in the little boat Broadcasting, cast off from the cruise ship Mass Media after it hit the great, unanticipated iceberg of new technology.

The X Factor, and the many shows like it that now litter our schedules, employ every trick the past century's one-to-many medium has in order to compete with the web's network of ends.

For a start, there are the stars, though even Simon Cowell tweets now. But more important is the spectacle, the occasion. The internet is not about occasions - you don't pop corn to surf the net. Then there is the voting. This is the kind of interactivity TV executives dream of. No messy comment pages, no sign of the rude, disruptive commenters known as trolls and flamers: this is a National Verdict. Bash our codes into your keypad, take part, you decide. But the only real choice on offer is consenting to the gaudy homogeneity these shows offer
as a matter of course.

Yet there are exceptions. The TV talent show is a franchise - another archaic channel through which the money of old media still flows. For example, the “Got Talent" franchise has sold to nearly 30 countries, one of which is Ukraine. The star turn from the first series of Ukraine's Got Talent has been posted on YouTube, and has attracted more than eight million viewers since the competition concluded this summer. Eight million is a mass audience on the web - for a video of something that isn't a cat, anyway.

Kseniya Simonova is a performance artist who works with sand. She won Ukraine's Got Talent with a piece depicting her country's experience of the Second World War, when one in four of the population lost their lives. To a specially commissioned soundtrack, Simonova stands at a giant light-box-table, an image of which is projected on to an immense screen behind her. Wearing a daring outfit, she deftly weaves a succession of emotive scenes from the sand that lies scattered in front of her. The result is strangely breathtaking.

So if, during the run-up to the British X Factor final, you require a little reassurance about the delicacy of the human soul, you can find it on YouTube.

Becky Hogge is a writer and technologist. She was formerly the technology director of award-winning current affairs website openDemocracy.net, and Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a grassroots digital civil liberties organisation.

This article first appeared in the 30 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Left Hanging