X Factor far more engaging than its turgid rival Our First Home.

A decade ago New Zealand Idol ran for an hour and a half a week across two nights. It seemed a hefty load at the time, but today I look back wistfully at its comparatively sleek form. The show's children are TV One's Our First Home and TV3's X Factor, hulking brutes which run for 90 minutes on Sunday alone, with another two hours spread across Monday and Tuesday.

Each makes extraordinary demands of its audience's attention spans. Sadly only one rewards the commitment.

TV3's X Factor is three weeks and nine episodes into its second season. The singing competition franchise sees four judges take on a mentoring role with aspiring musicians. They perform ahead of weekly eliminations, culminating in a winner being sent off for a very brief career in the music industry.

The X Factor NZ's judging panel is a key ingredient of the popular show.
The X Factor NZ's judging panel is a key ingredient of the popular show.

13's instalment was a good time. It didn't matter that the music often sucked, because X Factor was pacy, emotionally manipulative and peppered with oddly compelling characters. Most notably loud-trousered madman Daniel Bedingfield in a judge's chair.


We've lost Bedingfield, but that hasn't impacted the show due to the inspired casting of two new judges in married pop singers Willy Moon and Natalia Kills.

The pair were legitimate wildcards, with no real local profile. But Moon has revealed a bemused, emotionless style which contrasts beautifully with Kills' electrifying mood swings and precision putdowns.

More than the judges, though, it's the contestants that keep you hooked. There's a besuited chap from Invercargill named Joe Irvine, who sings with force and weeps uncontrollably at every opportunity. He will do battle with a girl group from Mangere East, a wild-eyed labourer from Christchurch and a soul singer from Porirua with a huge voice and no home.

This is my favourite unintended consequence of X Factor - that we end up seeing a whole bunch of New Zealanders from outside our central cities who might otherwise never get near a live mic.

X Factor's opponent is Our First Home, TV One's flagship home renovation show. It features three sets of parents competing to buy, do up and flick on a house over 10 frantic weeks. The very neat hook is that they complete the task with their kids, aiming to turn a quick buck to help the young ones get on to Auckland's freight train property market before it leaves the station for good.

The Gourley family are in a race against time to produce a show-winning house on Our First Home.
The Gourley family are in a race against time to produce a show-winning house on Our First Home.

Unlike X Factor's lengthy auditioning, I get the feeling Our First Home's casting call was brief and limited, because we have three near identical families of pleasant white folk from the Upper North Island. They work hard and overcome surmountable problems with a bit of elbow grease.

In between times they roam Auckland solving ludicrous challenges relating to the sponsor's product.

"The idea is, you swipe your Fly Buys card to accumulate as many points as you can," host Goran Palladin said earnestly on Monday. "However, not all of the items carry the same points value."

In between these astonishingly vacuous segments are advertisements featuring contestants in similar scenarios. In fact, one of the ways you can liven up this dystopian vision of television's future is by trying to tell when the ads end and the show returns.

Sponsorship is an unproblematic fact of reality TV life. Better they pay than us, right?

It's very present in X Factor, too, where the contestants really love their Big Macs. But it's less oppressive there, and balanced with moments of real emotion, making this sprawling show also engaging enough (just about) to justify the vast quantities of your time it seeks.

Unfortunately TV One's similarly bloated Our First Home - despite a very promising format - is about as much fun as installing drywall.

• Duncan Greive is the editor of NZ television website The Spinoff